More people died on South Carolina highways in 2021 than in any year since 2018. 

With one week left in the year, the number of people who died in traffic accidents across the state rose to 1,068 people on Dec. 22 following an evening wreck on U.S. Highway 76 in Newberry, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. In 2020, 1,067 people died on S.C. highways, compared to 1,006 in 2019 and 1,036 in 2018.

There also have been more fatal crashes in 2021 — 991 wrecks involving fatalities – than in the three previous years. The number of pedestrians killed in wrecks — 173 people — is fewer than the 187 who died in 2020, but higher than the 165 who died the year earlier. Records also show 148 motorcyclists died this year, compared to 116 in 2020, and 18 bicyclists died, two more than the year before.

Lance Cpl. Nick Pye of the S.C. Highway Patrol’s Charleston office said most highway deaths can be prevented. 

“We work very very few fatalities that couldn’t have been avoided,” he said. “When somebody is going 20 or 30 miles above the speed limit (and dies), that could have been prevented.” 

Pye said the top three factors involved in highway deaths include accidents featuring speeding, distracted driving or driving under the influence.

 “Anytime you throw in somebody not wearing a seatbelt in there, the chances are higher of something going wrong,” he said. 

Current data show that of the 706 deaths where people had access to seatbelts, some 348 – just under half – were not wearing seatbelts.

“We can go days at a time without having a fatality,” he said. “The common denominator is that people are making bad decisions — breaking the law — and that’s what is causing these fatalities.”

Law enforcement officials say they’ll have ramped up enforcement on area roads during the holidays.