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The new year on the roads has already claimed one life in Orangeburg County. That's not the beginning we had hoped for after a year that saw traffic deaths here increase while the number killed statewide declined.

Preliminary numbers from the S.C. Department of Public Safety show 42 people died on Orangeburg County roads in 2019. That's three more than the 39 in 2018.

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Fortunately, the numbers were down in Calhoun, from eight in '18 to two. And Bamberg County had no one die in crashes in 2019 after two were killed the year before.

Statewide, the number of deaths declined by about 5%, with 985 people being killed in 2019. The 2018 toll was 1,036.

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As much as the declines are welcome, it's still horrific that nearly 1,000 people were killed on the state's roads last year.

And already in 2020, there have been deaths.

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SCDPS said four persons were killed during the New Year’s holiday reporting period, which started Tuesday, Dec. 31, at 6 p.m. and concluded Wednesday, Jan. 1, at 11:59 p.m.

During the weekend period, which began Friday, Jan. 3, at 6 p.m. until Sunday, Jan. 5, at 11:59 p.m., two persons were killed on the roadways.

As of Jan. 5, seven people had died on South Carolina highways -- compared to 19 highway deaths during the same time period in 2019.

Seeing traffic deaths take a major decline is high on the list of wishes for the new year. Many things could contribute to making it happen.

A key one is wearing safety belts.

Of the seven people who have died so far in 2020, five had access to seat belts -- and four were not wearing them.

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Using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics on the effectiveness of belts in saving lives and preventing injury, at least two of the five would be alive today had they been buckled up.

NHTSA statistics show:

1. If you buckle up in the front seat of a passenger car, you can reduce your risk of fatal injury by 45% and moderate to critical injury by 50%.

2. If you buckle up in a light truck, you can reduce your risk of fatal injury by 60% and moderate to critical injury by 65%.

In Orangeburg County and all around South Carolina, a commitment to wearing seat belts every time and all the time while traveling would be a very smart resolution -- and one that is not difficult to keep. Your life may depend on it.

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