Traffic deaths on rise in Lowcountry as Memorial Day nears

All eyes are on the roads as the biggest travel weekend of the year approaches, and the Lowcountry has already seen more traffic fatalities this year than last year. According to the S.C. Department of Transportation, there have been 361 traffic deaths statewide this year as of May 19, 32 fewer than last year. But for Charleston, this year has seen two more than last year at this time, with 24 deaths so far in 2008, and Berkeley County traffic fatalities have doubled from 12 to 24, as The Post and Courier reports:

Troopers and local law enforcement hope to keep those numbers from increasing further during the typically busy Memorial Day holiday by fielding extra patrols with an eye to drunk driving, seat-belt use and other infractions.

"The major cause of the deaths (...) is people not buckling up," said Cpl. Paul Brouthers of the Highway Patrol. "Many of these people would have been saved had they been wearing a seat belt."

Nineteen people were killed in collisions statewide during last year's Memorial Day weekend, a few of which occurred in the Lowcountry.

The state Office of Highway Safety also keeps a day-to-day comparison of crash deaths across the state for 2007 vs. 2008, though its numbers differ from those given by SCDOT. Highway Safety numbers still show a statewide decrease, with 33 fewer fatal crashes than last year as of Wednesday.

In an S.C. Dept. of Transportation press release, Transportation Secretary H.B. Limehouse Jr. called on drivers to exhibit extra caution during Memorial Day:

Secretary Limehouse urged all South Carolinians to drive with extra caution as the Memorial Day Holiday approaches. Memorial Day begins what has been referred to as the “100 Deadliest Days” on the highways, ending with the Labor Day weekend. Death rates typically increase during the summer months due to more people traveling and an increase in construction on the highways.

The press release also discusses plans that have been put into effect to help decrease traffic fatalities in South Carolina, such as "Citizen's Remembrance Day" in April and the launch of the Strategic Highway Safety Plan last year.

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