Drunk driving is a major factor in traffic fatalities on the biggest party night of the year — New Year’s Eve, state law enforcement officials say.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol reports the number of traffic fatalities in 2013 dropped to its lowest total in 30 years with 762 deaths. However, highway deaths have gone back up this year, topping 800 just this past weekend.
With party-goers set to ring in the new year, authorities worry that incidents of drinking and driving will result in more deaths.
“Driving under the influence still contributes to almost half of the fatalities,” Lance Cpl. Judd Jones said. “We want to start 2015 on a positive note. Target Zero is our goal.”
So far this year, 804 motorists have died on the state’s highways. Orangeburg County accounts for 28 of those deaths. That’s down from 34 last year.
In Bamberg County, the number has dropped from four to two. In Calhoun County, which like Orangeburg County has lengthy stretches of interstate, traffic fatalities rose from seven last year to 12 in 2014.
Adjacent counties also saw increases, including Barnwell County which went from four highway deaths last year to six in 2014 and Berkeley County where traffic deaths rose significantly from 25 to 39 in 2014.
Lexington County’s traffic fatalities dropped from 39 last year to 33 in 2014.
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The New Year’s Eve safety enforcement campaign comes in conjunction with the state Department of Public Safety’s Sober or Slammer campaign launched in early December.
In spite of the increased patrols, 41 motorists still died during last year’s Sober or Slammer campaign.
“We made tremendous strides in reducing the number of highway fatalities last year,” SCDPS Director Leroy Smith said. “Unfortunately, motorists are still not heeding the warnings about the dangers of drinking and driving. We want to finish out the year with zero traffic fatalities, and removing drunk drivers from our roadways is a major step toward that goal.”
Authorities are encouraging motorists to celebrate the holiday responsibly by designating a driver for New Year’s parties.
“Make sure if you’re hosting a party that your guests have arrangements to get home; designate a driver,” Jones said.
He said the Highway Patrol will be working in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies in conducting traffic safety checkpoints that will be set up throughout The Times and Democrat Region.
Statewide, the South Carolina Department of Transportation will be displaying “Statewide DUI Crackdown in Progress” on its overhead message boards on New Year’s Eve as well as “DUI Crackdown” on portable message boards.
Authorities encourage anyone who spots an impaired driver to call *HP (or *47).
Contact the writer: rwalker@timesanddemocrat or 803-533-5516. Follow on Twitter @RWalkerTandd for insight on the cops beat.
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