Beaufort law enforcement to step up patrols during holiday travel times

astice@islandpacket.comDecember 21, 2011 

  • South Carolina's gasoline prices have dropped 72 cents a gallon since peaking in May, making for an extra Christmas present for the 1.7 million South Carolina drivers expected to travel more than 50 miles from home this holiday season, according to AAA Carolinas.


    About 1,270,000 South Carolinas will travel over the holiday season, a 3-percent increase over last year. The vast majority - 92 percent - will travel by car, AAA Carolinas estimates.


    Only 6 percent of holiday travelers will take a plane, with airfares 21 percent more expensive than last year because of higher jet fuel costs.


  • S.C. Highway Patrol Troop Six will set up the following checkpoints in Beaufort County over the Christmas and New Year's holidays:


    - Noon Dec. 24 on Coffin Point Road, St. Helena Island.
    - 11 p.m. Dec. 30 on Burnt Church Road, Bluffton.

  • Get breaking news and story updates about courts, crime and emergency services in southern Beaufort County by following Lowcountry Blotter on Twitter.

More motorists will hit the road over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, and so will state troopers and local law enforcement.

Lance Cpl. Bob Beres of the S.C. Highway Patrol said drivers on main highways, as well as less-traveled roads, should expect checkpoints and more patrols, part of the holiday "Sober or Slammer" crackdown targeting drunk drivers.

The Christmas holiday travel period begins at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at midnight on Dec. 26, according to Highway Patrol. Heavier-than-normal traffic is expected on major thoroughfares during the New Year's holiday from 6 p.m. Dec. 30 until midnight Jan. 2.

Over the Christmas holiday last year, 13 people were killed on South Carolina roads, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety's Office of Highway Safety. That's the highest number in the past 10 years. None of the fatalities was in Beaufort County.

Over the New Year's holiday last year, 11 people died in traffic accidents. One death, on New Year's Day, was in Beaufort County.

In Beaufort County over the Christmas holiday last year, five people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances, according to the Beaufort County Detention Center jail log.

Over New Year's, nine people were arrested for DUI, two more for driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration and five for driving with an open container, according to the jail log.

Traffic deaths have increased in South Carolina this year compared to last, and authorities say the jump can be attributed to accidents where drivers are impaired. Based on recent crash data, the S.C. Department of Public Safety's Office of Highway Safety estimates more than 40 percent of 795 fatalities so far this year involved a drunk driver.

In Beaufort County, however, traffic fatalities are down. Through Dec. 18, 13 people died on Beaufort County roads, compared to 22 during the same time period last year.

"With New Year's around the corner, it's a clean slate for everyone, a kind of new beginning starting Jan. 1," Beres said. "Unfortunately, for the nearly 800 people who lost a loved one in a traffic accident this year, that pain carries into the new year and every year after that."

Those who plan to celebrate with drink this holiday season should make a plan for getting home that doesn't involve getting behind the wheel, Beres said.

The Department of Public Safety has kicked off a new campaign to underscore that point using the acronym SANTA, calling for people to volunteer to be a Sober All Night Totally Awesome designated driver. The month-long campaign includes commercials and a collaboration with the S.C. Hospitality Association.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/lcblotter.

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