AIKEN - When Aiken County schoolchildren head to class Monday, police will be nearby, writing warnings and tickets to inattentive drivers.
Uniformed officers will target 10 locations in Aiken County, all near schools, where children will be walking. The heightened traffic patrol is part of the state's Safe Return to Safer Schools campaign announced Wednesday at Midland Valley High School.
Asked which roads were the most hazardous for children, resource officers in eight Aiken County schools picked Sudlow Lake and Duncan roads and Mustang Drive near Midland Valley High; South Busbee Road in front of Wagener-Salley High School; and Sand Dam Road and A.L. Corbett and Staley drives near A.L. Corbett Middle School.
They don't have statistics to prove it, but they do have officers' experience and observations to support those choices, Aiken County Lt. Michael Frank said.
Police also will patrol Lions Terrace near Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School and Desoto Drive and U.S. Highway 278 near Silver Bluff High School. At Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, officers will direct parents through the proper entrances and exits.
"The state highway patrol consistently receives reports from parents and motorists about speeding and reckless driving in areas where our children should be the safest - around our schools," said Capt. Russell Roark, flanked by at least 13 officers.
Their presence will be very noticeable the first two weeks of school, Capt. Roark said.
From 1995 to 1999, 18 people in South Carolina were killed and 2,482 others were injured in school bus accidents that are usually not the bus drivers' fault, according to the Department of Public Safety. Last year alone, there were four fatalities and 473 injuries involving school buses.
Two of those deaths were in Aiken County, when a car rammed the back of a bus.
Capt. Roark said Wednesday that neither his agency nor anyone else's would be involved in a "covert" operation. "But we will use all the tools in our toolbox, including unmarked cars, to make our roads safer. The lower our collision rate, the fewer fatalities we'll have."
Police especially will be looking for drivers who don't stop for school buses. It's become so frequent that the Legislature stiffened penalties this year. If convicted, drivers could pay a maximum of $2,000 and spend 30 days in jail, more if a child is injured or dies.
South Carolina has the third highest death rate in the nation for miles traveled. At 2.4 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, the Palmetto State is 60 percent above the national average of 1.5 million deaths per 100 million vehicle miles.
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.