A Bluffton police cruiser sat parked in a grassy median of U.S. 278 on Thursday afternoon, straddled by six lanes of traffic whizzing past.
That sight has become more common along the highway this month, a result of increased enforcement by the Bluffton Police Department and the S.C. Highway Patrol. Both agencies have stationed extra patrol cars indefinitely along the U.S. 278 corridor, hoping more watchful eyes will stop the recent spike in serious crashes on the road.
"Once we started seeing the trend on U.S. 278, we went ahead and moved our resources," Maj. Joseph Manning of the Bluffton Police Department said.
Most recently, five people were injured, one critically, in a three-car wreck July 17 near Eagle's Pointe Golf Club, according to police. The accident was caused by a vehicle following another too closely, an incident report said.
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The department has issued 56 tickets so far this month, including 19 since increased enforcement began July 16, Manning said. Officers gave out 39 tickets last month and 33 tickets in July 2013, he said.
The added patrols are possible because two school resource officers can be reassigned to other duties during the summer, Manning said.
The wrecks also prompted the S.C. Highway Patrol to rev up enforcement, Senior Trooper Hannah Wimberly said.
Since July 1, more troopers have been stationed along the corridor, from S.C. 170 to Hilton Head Island, using in-car and hand-held radar guns to tackle one of the main causes of wrecks: Driving too fast for conditions.
Lt. Roger Hughes of the S.C. Department of Public Safety said he could only provide statistics on the entirety of U.S. 278, not the part that runs through Bluffton. On the route overall, troopers gave out 149 tickets between July 1 and Tuesday, up from 97 tickets during the three previous weeks, according to Hughes.
Statistics were not available Thursday from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
The recent accidents, including one in June that killed a person, also worried Beaufort County traffic engineers. On June 12, they asked the S.C. Department of Transportation to conduct a road-safety audit for the corridor, and the state agreed.
A diverse team of state, county and town officials will study each wreck along the road, and a consultant will be hired in the next three months to draft recommendations for improvements.
The study, at an estimated price tag of $20,000, could be completed by the end of the year, state traffic safety program engineer Joey Riddle said.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- In wake of crashes, safety audit planned for U.S. 278 in Bluffton, July 12, 2014
- Police identify victims of US 278 wreck in Bluffton, July 22, 2014
- 9 injured in wrecks Friday; 5 hurt in Thursday crash identified, June 6, 2014