The number of traffic tickets issued to drivers on Hilton Head Island was nearly cut in half in 2015 — likely because of fewer police officers patrolling the town’s roads.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office issued 1,369 traffic tickets in 2015. That’s down from the 2,669 in 2014, according to data the Beaufort County’s Sheriff’s Office presented to the town’s Public Safety Committee this month. The data did not include a breakdown of the infractions for which tickets were written.
The number of warnings also decreased to just 2,377, down from 3,094.
The drop is likely caused by a 2014 Town Council vote that allowed the sheriff’s office to reduce the number of deputies on daytime traffic patrol in order to increase patrols at nighttime hot spots, primarily in the Coligny area, said town and law enforcement officials.
As a result, four officers became available to patrol the Coligny area and other spots that routinely post high volumes of police calls. But the overall number of deputies working on the island remains unchanged.
Councilman Marc Grant, chairman of the town’s Public Safety Committee, said the drop in traffic tickets was an expected result of the change and did not mean traffic enforcement is now inadequate.
“I think the police are still doing a good job keeping the roads safe,” Grant said. “They’re still very visible. We don’t need to have overkill with speeding tickets. We have people coming from all over the world to Hilton Head. We don’t want them to think this is a speed trap.”
The change came after the the sheriff’s office originally requested an additional $437,567 to pay for three extra deputies to patrol the island at night following problems with burglaries, car break-ins and disorderly conduct at late-night bars, according to town meeting minutes.
Rather than approve more funding, Town Council opted to reallocate officer time, Grant said.
“You have to use your resources wisely,” he said. “And there are certain areas of the island where you need more monitoring for crime.”
Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett did not respond to calls for comment on the reduction in traffic tickets.
Sheriff’s Office data also show that the number of crimes reported in the Coligny area has steadily decreased each year since 2008. But the perception persists that the area has an issue with crime, especially after a 17-year-old high school student, Dominique Williams, was shot and killed there by another teenager last summer, said council member Kim Likins.
Council members say it’s unlikely that deputies could have prevented the tragedy.
“I don’t think that increased enforcement was the answer to prevent something like that,” Grant said of the personally motivated shooting. “That could have happened anywhere.”
Meanwhile, the number of wrecks on the island increased in 2014, according to the data. There were 770 wrecks in 2015 compared to 709 in 2014.
Most were minor. Fatal wrecks during that same period dropped to four in 2015 from seven. The 2015 fatalities all involved drivers swerving off the road and hitting trees.
The worst road for wrecks on Hilton Head was the most frequently traveled — William Hilton Parkway, according to the data. The road was the scene for 412 wrecks on Hilton Head in 2015, more than half of the wrecks on Hilton Head Island that year. The parkway’s intersections with Squire Pope Road and the Sea Pines traffic circle were the most frequent spots for the crashes, according to the data.
Aside from the island’s main artery, Shelter Cove Lane was the most frequent location for accidents, with 34 in 2015.
Assistant Town Manager Greg DeLoach said the rise in wrecks is likely due to the recent $74 million redevelopment of the old mall into the new Shelter Cove Towne Centre.
The new shopping center is “not unexpectedly” generating more traffic, said DeLoach, and the number of wrecks could decline as drivers familiarize themselves with the development.