SC ranking unsurprising in highway safety study

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 13, 2012 

South Carolina once again has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in a very unflattering list.

The state ranked first in "most dangerous" highways, according to carinsurancecomparison.com.

The website compiled information from highway safety reports that included the percentage of drivers not wearing seat belts, traffic fatalities and the percentage of bridges rated obsolete or deficient. When South Carolina's points were added up in the six categories, we had a combined 241 points. The next highest was Florida with 204 points.

South Carolina was the only state to rank in the bottom half of all categories. Our best ranking was a lowly 33rd in the number of highway bridges rated obsolete or deficient. Our worst ranking was 46th in highway death rates per 100,000 people in a study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

That's not all that surprising given that we ranked 41st in the percentage of drivers not wearing seat belts and 44th in the number of interstate speeding deaths per mile of interstate. We ranked 38th in the number of highway deaths per 1,000 miles traveled and 39th in federal funding for highways.

Our neighbors fared much better in the overall rankings. Georgia was 35th, while North Carolina ranked 23rd. Still, the five most dangerous states were all in the South. South Carolina and Florida were joined by Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The safest state was Iowa.

What can we conclude from South Carolina's ranking in this compilation? Wear your seat belt. Slow down.

And we can probably throw in a plea to get off the cellphone and stop texting. South Carolina is one of only 11 states with no state law of any kind against texting and driving. In other words, pay attention to your driving.

We also can conclude that we need to spend more money to maintain our highways. The state Department of Transportation estimates that we need to spend $949 million to upgrade our road system from an "F" to a "C." Unfortunately, the department has budgeted about $270 million for maintenance this fiscal year. And even more unfortunate has been the department's handling of the money it does have. In 2011, the agency was plagued by cash-flow problems. At one point, it had $21 million in the bank, and $113 million in payables due. The agency cut $35 million from its road maintenance program that year despite the fact that South Carolina's state-maintained road system is in woeful disrepair.

Given that record, lawmakers have been loath to raise the state's gasoline tax, a critical source of funding for maintenance, or budget more money for the agency. But something has to change.

A bright spot in all this is that traffic fatalities are down this year from last year, according to the state Department of Public Safety. Through Tuesday, there had been 451 fatalities in 2012. In 2011, there were 474 fatalities in the same period, and 674 for the full year.

We long for the day South Carolina reaches the top of a list for positive reasons.

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