Horry County had the most traffic fatalities of any county in the state in 2015, and officials plan to continue education and enforcement efforts to reduce that number in 2016.
Seventy-seven people died in traffic-related incidents in Horry County in 2015, compared to 58 in 2014, according to statistics through Monday from the S.C. Department of Public Safety, the most recent numbers available. Fatalities also were up statewide; 942 people died in crashes on state highways in 2015, compared to 816 in 2014.
“We’ve seen a lot more motorists here in South Carolina … I think it’s just more motorists are coming to South Carolina with the gas prices going down,” said Lance Cpl. Hannah Wimberly with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Unusually icy conditions during the winter, coupled with historic fall flooding and extra days of excessive rain brought on thanks to an El Nino effect, brought extra challenges for Horry County motorists this year, authorities said.
If you look at the year in general, we’ve had a lot of rain and a lot of conditions that people aren’t used to driving in.
Hannah Wimberly, South Carolina Highway Patrol
“If you look at the year in general, we’ve had a lot of rain and a lot of conditions that people aren’t used to driving in,” Wimberly said.
The unseasonable warmth has also been a contributing factor, driving more tourists to the state and fueling more motorcyclists, mo-ped riders and pedestrians to be out without the usual winter chill to deter them.
Horry County Coroner Robert Edge said his office has been working overtime this year to keep up with the increasing number of crash victims.
“It’s been a big extra load than we’ve normally had. It’s put more demand on us,” Edge said.
The number of fatalities had held steady in recent years: 58 in 2014, 54 in 2013 and 51 in 2012, according to the state public safety department.
Edge said motorists not paying attention and knowing where they are going when they start out is part of the problem. Additional troopers and police creating a more visible presence on the highways could help bring numbers down, he said.
Alcohol use and not wearing seatbelts are common factors in Horry County traffic deaths as well, Wimberly and Edge said.
“Historically, Horry County traffic fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver constitute approximately 39 percent of the total fatalities in that county each year,” said Emily Thomas with the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
The number of alcohol-related fatal crashes in Horry County won’t be released until about mid-January, Wimberly said.
Historically, Horry County traffic fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver constitute approximately 39 percent of the total fatalities in that county each year.
Emily Thomas, South Carolina Department of Public Safety
As traffic deaths started rising this year, Highway Patrol took several steps aiming to reverse the trend. Agencies worked more closely together on checkpoints and getting the SCHP’s campaign messages out to the public.
Programs called “Sober or Slammer” and “Target Zero” were launched and promoted on billboards, in commercials, as well as broadcast on YouTube and posted on social media. The Highway Patrol has also promoted its Sober All Night Totally Awesome designated driver or S.A.N.T.A. around the Christmas holiday.
“Every time we go to a school and every time we go to a business people always say I saw the ‘Sober or Slammer’ billboard … I think people are paying attention and asking well what is it about,” Wimberly said. “You can’t go a few miles without seeing one of our ‘Target Zero’ billboards.”
These programs stress the importance of not drinking and driving and also that the goal is to have zero traffic-related fatalities. Troopers also encourage the public to dial *hp to report anyone who may be driving while intoxicated.
Reaching out to motorists through social media also was new in 2015. Troopers now have their own Twitter accounts with Wimberly already stacking up 809 followers. The Highway Patrol has used Facebook for years, but it’s now used more frequently, Wimberly said.
Troopers also used social media to stress safety on New Year’s Eve.
“We’re coming into it [New Year’s Eve] bad with as many fatalities as we have statewide. If we could just stay with the number we have right now and not have any more, that would be the perfect goal,” Wimberly said.
Partygoers should know how they’re getting home before the night begins, Wimberly said.
“Go out. Have fun. Have a good time, but know that you’re going to have to have a plan. Know whether you’re going to need to call a taxi or find a sober ride home. … There’s going to be more people out on the roadway traveling. .. Be patient, leave a little earlier than you normally would and wear your seatbelt,” Wimberly said.
In 2016, Highway Patrol will continue to spread its campaigns, aggressively tackling seatbelt law violators, speeders and those who drive under the influence aiming to reduce the number of fatalities.
“We can’t make people wear their seatbelt or make them stop speeding or make them not drive intoxicated. We rely a lot on the public to do that,” Wimberly said.
Highway Patrol graduated a new class of 40 troopers Dec. 17, and two more classes will likely graduate within the next year or so, authorities said.
“We’re going to go out strong starting at the beginning of the year,” Wimberly said.