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With the target being zero deaths on the roads, the nearly 1,000 people killed in 2017 in South Carolina is a horrific toll.

The preliminary numbers from the S.C. Department of Public Safety show 982 people were killed, a decline of more than 3 percent from the 1,020 who died in 2016.

Sadly, as was the case in 2016, the preliminary number is likely to increase. SCDPS defines the 2017 total as “preliminary” because reviews of collisions are ongoing, plus some persons in crashes could die from injuries they sustained.

The total continues a deadly trend on South Carolina roads of more than two people a day being killed. There were 979 fatalities in 2015, when the toll jumped markedly from 823 in 2014.

Locally, 2017 was bad again in Orangeburg County, where 30 people were killed, the same number as in 2016. The county is the state’s second largest in land area and has extensive miles of interstate highways and rural roads. Its annual death rate is among the highest per-capita among S.C. counties.

Calhoun County’s toll was five, down from 10 in 2016. Bamberg County had four people killed, three less than in 2016.

Among neighboring counties, Dorchester had 16 traffic fatalities, Berkeley had 33 and Lexington had 47.

The Upstate had a deadly year with Greenville County again recording the highest number killed at 73. Anderson had 44 and Spartanburg had 51. Horry had 63 deaths, Richland had 51 and Charleston County had 69.

While the news of any highway fatality cannot be called good news, 2018 has begun in a less deadly way than 2017. The SCDPS reports that as of Feb. 4, 69 people had died on South Carolina highways, compared to 97 highway deaths during the same time period in 2017.

Of the 56 motor vehicle occupants killed in 2018, 34 were not wearing seat belts. Seven pedestrians have died compared to 12 in 2017; two motorcyclists have died compared to six, and two bicyclists have died compared to three.

We can and must do better. No one wants to be a victim or lose a friend or family member in a highway crash. Toward South Carolina’s goal of no traffic fatalities, there must be individual commitment to safety.

As outlined by Jeff Barlett, writing for consumerreports.org, here are six keys to avoiding a traffic accident:

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• Buzzed driving -- The reality of drunk driving is that it is obviously a dangerous behavior, yet too often drivers get behind the wheel with alcohol in their bloodstream, impairing judgment and slowing reaction time. If you’re out having a good time, designate a driver. Or simply don’t drink until you’re home.

• Distracted driving -- Commute in any populated area and you’re bound to see people driving too slowly, occasionally weaving while talking on the phone. As the slogan says, “hang up and drive.” And don’t text.

• Speed -- A speed limit exists for a reason, and it isn’t just to be broken. Exceeding a posted speed limit means you have elected to drive faster than was intended for that road, putting others at risk. The faster you go, the less reaction time you have and the more skills are necessary to avoid an accident. Follow the speed limit and be especially attentive after dark.

• Parking lots -- It's important to be on alert when you're driving in the parking lot. Most people behind the wheel are so focused on finding a parking spot that they aren't watching what else is going on. Children can be very difficult to see in a busy parking lot, especially at night.

• Drive the right car -- In addition to being conscientious with your driving behavior, choosing a good-performing car with excellent safety marks and proven reliability can further reduce your risks.

• Advanced safety systems -- Standard on new cars since 2012, electronic stability control has been shown to lower the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about half and the risk of a fatal rollover by as much as 80 percent. Fortunately, advanced safety systems are becoming more widespread.

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