Much of the emphasis on solar eclipse safety has rightfully gone to people protecting their eyes. But safety for pedestrians and motorists is a top priority on Monday as throngs of people join South Carolinians for a rare event.
Residents of our state should know – and people from elsewhere need to know – our roads are among the most dangerous in the nation. You see the signs on the interstates advising motorists that more than 600 people have died already this year. The number is nearly equal to the toll as this time a year ago and has the state on pace again for 1,000 or more fatalities by year’s end.
And the danger is not just here. It’s en route to the state and nearly everywhere around the country.
The National Safety Council said Tuesday that although U.S. motor vehicle deaths and injuries were down slightly in the first six months of 2017, they were still significantly higher than they were two years ago,
There were 18,689 motor vehicle deaths through June 30, said the council, a leading safety organization that gets its data from state governments. That's 250 fewer deaths, or a 1 percent decline, from the period in 2016. But deaths were still up 8 percent compared to the first six months of 2015.
Motor vehicle deaths began to spike in late 2014, ending several years of historic declines. There were 40,200 deaths for all of 2016 compared to 35,398 in 2014.
The increase corresponded with record high miles driven by Americans as the economy improved. Miles driven are up about 1.7 percent for the first 6 months of this year although the rate of increase appears to be slowing, the council said.
"The price of our cultural complacency is more than a hundred fatalities each day," said Deborah Hersman, the council's president, said in a report by The Associated Press.
South Carolina officials are trying to ensure Monday won’t be a tragic one.
The state Department of Transportation is restricting highway work on interstates and primary routes to avoid lane closures due to heavy traffic expected for the eclipse. SCDOT is not allowing any non-emergency lane closures on interstates through 8 p.m. Tuesday. No lane closures are being allowed on primary routes until Tuesday evening.
The agency has increased patrols on interstates and primary routes assisting motorists through Monday. SCDOT SHEP responders make minor repairs to disabled vehicles and assist with traffic control and traffic incident management.
On Monday, SCDOT SHEP will increase services along interstate routes such as I-26. To request SCDOT SHEP, dial *HP.
In addition on Monday, SCDOT maintenance crews will be patrolling interstates to provide a phone for a stranded vehicle to call a tow truck; assist in changing a flat tire for a stranded vehicle; or provide a small amount of gasoline if someone has run out and is stranded.
Here are three key points for all motorists:
• Do not stop on roadways to view the eclipse.
• Do not park on highway shoulders to view the eclipse.
• Do not drive while wearing solar eclipse glasses.
To keep up with road conditions, SCDOT’s 511 Traveler Information system provides real-time traffic information on all South Carolina interstate highways and some of the highways along the coast. Users can call 511, access the system online at www.511SC.org or download the free app.