In 2015, South Carolina had the highest car accident fatality rate in the country. There were 1.89 deaths for every 100 million vehicles miles traveled. When those statistics were released, there were those in the state who used those numbers to tout the need for spending more money on road improvements on the state’s highways.
As proof of poor road conditions being the cause of the high number of fatal crashes, officials pointed to the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s (DOT) grading of more than half of the state’s primary routes as poor. The debate has spilled into the Legislature who has been debating road funding for the past four years.
In 2016, lawmakers gave the DOT $200 million to be used as leverage for obtaining $2 billion in bonds for a handful of expensive highway projects. Recently, the House passed a bill which will raise $600 million more annually for road work and the Senate is debating a bill which would give the DOT $800 million more each year, as well as provide tax relief.
The DOT says it is spending $415 million per year on pavement, but claims the agency actually needs at least $900 million. The DOT also claims that in order to keep up with all roads and infrastructure, they should be receiving $1.1 billion every year.
But as the infrastructure debate wages on, statistics from fatal crashes that occurred in 2016 are raising some red flags. There were 936 fatal car crashes last year in South Carolina, yet only 12 of them have road conditions listed as a contributing factor to the crash. And out of those 12, several site ice or snow as the factor, not the condition of the road itself.
Overall, in the 39,000 car crashes which resulted in injuries last year, only 1 percent cited road conditions as a contributing factor. There were more accidents which cited animals in the road as the cause than road conditions.
These numbers may point to another reason there are so many accidents in the state – and that is the reduction in the number of state troopers who patrol South Carolina’s highways.
According to the Department of Public Safety, there were 950 South Carolina state troopers in 2008. Currently, there are only 805 troopers in the state, a decrease of 145. Yet, since 2000, there have been over 1 million vehicles in the state since then, as well as 800,000 more licensed drivers.
And while the number of drivers and vehicles has grown since 2008, the Highway Patrol’s budget has shrunk, from $52.9 million in 2008 to $47.8 million this year.
Some officials say it is both the conditions of the state’s roads, as well as the lack of enough law enforcement patrolling those roads, that is contributing to South Carolina’s first-place national rank of most fatal crashes.
In a discussion regarding the number of fatal crashes in the state, attorney Gary Christmas said, “Poorly maintained roads, dangerous road designs, and dangerous behaviors of drivers all contribute to the tragically high number of deaths we have in South Carolina. Lawmakers really need to work together and come up with solid plans in combating this issue from every angle possible.”