Originally created 10/07/04

Traffic deaths eclipse '03 tally



AIKEN - Every day, an average of three people die in wrecks on South Carolina roads.

And with almost three months remaining, this year has been deadlier than 2003, with 741 traffic fatalities tallied as of this week by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. That's 40 more than last year.

Aiken County's tally of 29 deaths this year already has surpassed last year's total by eight. That figure makes Aiken County the seventh deadliest jurisdiction in South Carolina, tied with Anderson County.

Not surprisingly, the counties with the highest traffic fatality numbers are South Carolina's most populous jurisdictions. Greenville County is the deadliest in South Carolina, with 49 traffic deaths so far, state figures show. Charleston County is second with 47.

South Carolina's more rural counties have fewer fatalities. But that doesn't mean these jurisdictions have seen a drop in deaths this year.

Barnwell County, which has had one of the lowest fatality rates in the state during the past two years, has eight traffic deaths so far this year, almost three times as many as all of last year.

Edgefield and McCormick counties, with one traffic death each, have equaled their 2003 totals.

And there are several deadly exceptions to this rural rule. Sparsely populated counties such as Orangeburg, with 27 traffic fatalities, and Florence, with 25, have high-traffic highways and interstates running through them.

Many of the people who work these accidents say traffic fatalities have several common traits: inattention, speeding, failure to wear seat belts and alcohol use.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation's "Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day" on Sunday is taking aim at three of those accident-causing factors. Commuters are asked to wear a seat belt, to obey the speed limit and to not drink and drive.

Lance Cpl. Dwight Green of the Highway Patrol said speeding often contributes to deaths in Aiken County, especially during bad weather. The fast pace of Interstate 20 also has helped raise the county's fatality rate, he said.

"The majority of those collisions on I-20 have been due to driving too fast for conditions," Lance Cpl. Green said.

Aiken County Interim Coroner Robert Haythorn said most of the fatalities he sees are a result of "inattention for whatever reason, whether they're on the phone or they've had a few drinks."

"In a number of cases, we find cell phones around the ground laying around their vehicles," Mr. Haythorn said of fatal crash scenes.

Reach Phil Watson at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110.

TRAFFIC FATALities

20032004

*South Carolina701741
Aiken County2129
Barnwell County38
Edgefield County 11
McCormick County11
* as of Oct. 1

Source: South Carolina Department of Public Safety