State law-enforcement officials plan a crackdown on drunk driving as new data is released suggesting about 70 percent of South Carolina's drunk-driving-related traffic fatalities involve at least one driver with blood alcohol levels nearly twice the legal limit.
Officials from the S.C. Department of Public Safety and S.C. Highway Patrol held a news conference Thursday in Columbia to announce the beginning of their "Sober or Slammer!" program, aimed at curbing drunk driving through increased DUI enforcement. The effort began Friday and runs through Sept. 7.
About one person is killed each day in a DUI-related crash in South Carolina, state officials said this week. More than 350 people were killed in the Palmetto State in drunk driving crashes in 2010, according to the most recent statistics available.
The press conference came about two days after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new data, which showed that, nationally, traffic fatalities dropped 14 percent from 2006 to 2010 to 1,080.
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However, more than 340 of those deaths were attributed to crashes involving at least one driver with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or more, which is the legal limit for impairment in South Carolina and many other states.
Disturbing to many local and state law enforcement officials was data indicating that 70 percent of the state's drunk driving fatalities were the result of crashes involving at least one driver with an alcohol level of 0.15 or more.
More than 250 people were killed in such crashes in 2010, according to the new data.
Port Royal Police Chief Alan Beach said drivers and law enforcement must work together to reduce that number.
"I believe that if more people would call when they suspect a driver is impaired, then that would reduce crashes," Beach said. "We do as much enforcement as we can but it's never enough it seems like."
The Highway Patrol and state public-safety officials put a similar emphasis this week on the need for motorists to be on the lookout for drunk drivers and report them to authorities.
"Nearly half of South Carolina's fatalities each year continue to be DUI-related," DPS director Leroy Smith said in a statement. "That is why we are enlisting the public to help be our eyes on the highways and combat this problem by calling *HP if they suspect an impaired driver. In 2011, South Carolina law enforcement officers made 28,466 DUI arrests. We can only imagine the number of lives saved and injuries averted due to many of those arrests."
The only way to truly prevent drunk driving and those fatalities is for drivers to be more responsible," Sgt. Robin McIntosh, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said.
"What's the best way to combat that problem? Don't drink and drive. Ever," McIntosh said. "I think that's the only way to get that number down."
It was unclear this week whether local departments plan to set up checkpoints or have extra patrols over the upcoming holiday weekend as part of the crackdown.