[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story, originally published Dec. 30, was updated Jan. 3, 2023, after the state released year-end data on traffic fatalities.]

Some 142 fewer people died on South Carolina highways in 2022 compared to the year before as fatalities dropped 12% as of Dec. 31, according to state highway data released Jan. 3.

For 2022, 1,056 people died in highway accidents, according to the state Department of Public Safety (SCDPS). During the previous year, 1,198 people died on the state’s roads in accidents involving cars, pedestrians, bikes or motorcycles.

Why the big drop? At this point, it’s unclear, although this year’s fatality numbers are more reflective of totals from past years when 1,066 died in 2020 and 1,006 in 2019.

While the final number of road-related deaths likely will grow slightly in the last few days of the year and because some data won’t be available until next year, part of the drop could be because people didn’t drive as much due to higher gas prices.

“Less miles on the road can also be attributed to a number of variables, including gas prices, personal choice, et cetera,” said Kyle Magahee, SCDPS media relations coordinator.

Ginny T. Jones, director of strategic communications at the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT), highlighted the agency’s emphasis on boosting safety that’s part of its 10-year plan.

“SCDOT has increased funding to our Highway Safety Program by almost 35% from $98 million per year in 2018 to $132 million in 2023,” she told Statehouse Report.  “Our safety program aims to make improvements based on a systematic, data-driven approach.  

“Based on analysis performed by our traffic engineers, we put in proven safety measures on a case-by-case basis.  These safety improvements include a variety of countermeasures including alternative intersection designs, traffic signals or signs, pavement markings, removing roadside obstacles and more.”

Magahee said the department also had more local law enforcement agencies join it in efforts to reduce speeding and distracted driving in enforcement campaigns for traffic safety, such as Sober or Slammer, Operation Southern Slow Down and Buckle Up, South Carolina. 

“It’s important to note that we have seen a 52% increase (88 agencies in 2021 to 134 agencies in 2022) in participation from law enforcement agencies statewide in our S.C. Law Enforcement Networks,” Magahee said. “The benefit of more agencies participating means an increased and consolidated effort on traffic enforcement across the state.”

He added while the department hasn’t spent more on paid media, it has reallocated some dollars to reach riskier 16- to 34-year-old drivers through targeted social media campaigns.

“We do want to mention our Area Coordinated Enforcement (ACE) Team,” he added. “The agency uses collision data to strategically place our enforcement teams in high crash corridors and focus on enforcing traffic violations with a special emphasis on DUI, speed, aggressive and distracted driving, which are common violations that lead to collisions and fatalities.”

Here are some additional fatality numbers from the beginning of the year through Dec. 18, compared to all of 2021, according to the agency’s website:

Fatal crashes:  946 in 2022; 1,098 in 2021.
Pedestrians killed: 163 in 2022; 190 in 2021.
Bicyclists killed: 21 in 2022; 23 in 2021.
Motorcyclists killed: 137 in 2022; 160 in 2021. 

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