Driving ourselves to death
on South Carolina rural roads
Saturday, August 24, 2013 8:00 PM
National automobile association AAA recently released its data-filled 2012 study of the state's wrecks and fatalities, with the end product being a ranking of South Carolina's most dangerous counties.
Abbeville County did not hit the top five in any of the various categories, but that's how statistics work. There could well be a shift in rankings come next year, given that two double fatalities occurred in that county within a 26-hour period.
Still, the Lakelands really did not fare so well in AAA's study. For example, Saluda and Laurens counties were among the state's most dangerous when it came to fatal crashes per vehicle miles traveled.
And while, as might be expected, Horry County wins no awards from AAA, Greenwood County need not await a blue ribbon from the organization. Care to guess where the county ranked for crashes in which there were injuries? It made the top of the list. What's more, Greenwood County, sadly, had the No. 1 spot for crashes involving injuries each year since 2009.
Greenwood was also in the top five when it came to counties in which motorcyclists had the best chance of being injured in a crash.
SOME OF THE DATA COMES AS no surprise, really. For example, we expect high-traffic areas, such as Horry, Charleston and Greenville, to have more wrecks. That's especially true when considering areas where tourists are traveling. It's new territory, they're not being as attentive and the roads and highways are crowded. Plus, vacationers too often tend to go at breakneck speeds to reach their destinations. Sadly, some never make it. Interstates 85, 95 and 26 are evidence enough of that.
As much as we all appreciate the beautiful country settings throughout much of our beautiful state, we also know it is full of rural roads that make Darlington's track too tough to tame seem like a safety zone.
David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, had this to say about our state's rural roads: "In addition to more curves, insufficient road markings and limited police presence, rural roads are prone to more single-vehicle accidents, particularly those involving alcohol."
Again, it might seem Parsons is stating the obvious here, but it is obvious year after year after year. The point is, not enough has been or is being done to correct the problems.
RIDE AROUND GREENWOOD or nearly any other essentially rural county and you'll find roads intersecting in the most bizarre ways. We have essentially paved the way for people to die or be seriously injured. It is one thing when a few paths in the woods intersect and another when highly traveled two-lane roads come together in such a way as to seemingly promote wrecks.
Take Highway 10 heading toward McCormick. It's not so tough to veer off for McCormick or head straight for Troy. It's another, however, if you're heading back to Greenwood from McCormick. And Hodges in Greenwood County? You would think it was Mecca the way so many roads suddenly intersect in the otherwise sleepy town.
There are plenty of other examples, worse examples no doubt, and you're wondering why those were not included. Tack them onto the comments section at the end of the online version of this column, if you wish.
"Consistently high rankings for being one of the most dangerous counties in the state should be a wake-up call for better traffic enforcement or road design" is another observation made by Parsons in releasing the AAA study. Greenwood County, how does it feel to be in that No. 1 spot since 2009?
IT'S A WONDER PARSONS did not make an appearance here to release the study. Then again, no it isn't. He probably thought a drive to Greenwood County would be risky as heck.
Fixing our roads and bridges is a spoken priority in Columbia. It is not, however, a funded priority. And frankly, the priority in this case is only on repairs and maintenance, not on wholesale changes that would fix some of the more dangerous intersections and winding roadways with cavernous ditches.
The statistics emanating from AAA and other studies won't improve unless and until we make some significant changes to our road and highway system.
Really, the way some of our state's rural roads devour automobiles and people makes Frank Herbert's sandworms seem tame.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-2522; email email@example.com ,or follow him on Twitter at IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.