Hilton Head town officials, sheriff’s office not doing enough to prevent car crashes, audit says

Should Beaufort sheriff charge for 911 hangups, false alarms? Report raises the idea

A consulting firm's report suggests ways to improve service by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office on Hilton Head Island.
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A consulting firm's report suggests ways to improve service by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office on Hilton Head Island.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner is denouncing a new audit that claims Hilton Head Island is experiencing an above average number of car crashes and that Tanner’s agency isn’t doing enough to curb the frequency.

The Town of Hilton Head Town paid Massachusetts-based Public Safety Strategies Group $25,700 to critique the police service town residents receive.

A draft of the audit, received by The Island Packet, raises questions about some of the audit’s findings.

For example, the audit found the island posted 6,099 crashes from 2015 through 2017. Of those three years, the island’s worst year was 2016, when 2,112 crashes occurred, according to a pie chart within the audit.

But a data table in the report shows 1,723 crashes in 2016 — almost 400 fewer crashes than the pie chart’s data. And a third table shows 1,875 crashes in the same year.

All three data sets differ greatly from the town’s own crash data. Although Darrin Shoemaker, Hilton Head’s traffic and transportation engineer, said Friday his numbers may not be exact, the most recent iteration of the town’s in-house crash database reported 947 crashes in 2016, a far cry from the PSSG audit’s numbers.

Shoemaker said most of his statistics come from the sheriff’s office. Lt. Col. Allen Horton said Friday that the BCSO’s crash data is in line with Shoemaker’s numbers.

“The (audit) data is not correct,” Horton said. “This (report) draft is full of inconsistencies. If you use (the audit’s) numbers, I think they’re falsely elevating them. And not just by a little bit — by a lot. It’s substantial.”

On Tuesday, a town committee is scheduled to get its first look at the audit.

Kym Craven, director of PSSG, declined to comment on the audit to the newspaper, noting it is PSSG policy not to speak to the media prior to speaking with a client.

For his and the BCSO’s part, Sheriff Tanner said Thursday he finds the audit to be “useless.”

“One of the things that caught my attention on this report is you’ve got 15 or 16 pages of information,” Tanner said. ”The rest of this report is ... graphs that mean nothing.”

PSSG claimed several times throughout the audit it did not receive full compliance from the BSCO and did not receive all of the data it requested.

PSSG’s audit also determined that the sheriff’s office is not up-to-date with its traffic safety programs. The audit says the BSCO should be using the Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety, or DDACTS, which it calls “a nationally accepted best practice that has met with positive results in terms of reducing crime while at the same time increasing community satisfaction related to traffic safety.”

Tanner did not dispute the BCSO’s lack of implementing DDACTS, but he said DDACTS isn’t necessary for the department to carry out its responsibilities.

“We don’t have DDACTS, but I can tell you ... we have the management team that evaluates where our accidents are and we position and deploy our traffic enforcement based on where those accidents are happening,” he said.

Tanner and Horton further alluded to light-up message boards and 10 to 12 patrol units — most of which are marked — as other ways the sheriff’s office deters traffic accidents.

“When you’re not on a call for service and you’re not extra patrolling a house or a business, we want you patrolling traffic in this area,” Horton said.

Town should do more too

One of the audit’s most blunt assessments lays blame on both the BCSO and the town.

“The BCSO needs to invest in education, signage, high visibility patrols, and other efforts in order to cut down on the number of crashes,” the audit reads. “While efforts place on traffic have increased, more work is required in this area. Not only is enforcement required, but educational efforts — and potentially engineering solutions are also needed.”

When asked whether that responsibility fell on the town, Tanner said he “agreed with that.”

Hilton Head Town Manager Steve Riley said Wednesday that the town is conducting studies about the road network throughout the island, in addition to other factors.

“We’re also looking at issues of pedestrian crosswalks, and we’ve been asked to do a speed limit study,” he said. “It’ll probably lead to some changes. But (it’s) too early to say what those might be.”

The crosswalks have been a hot button issue on the island recently, on the heels of 11-year-old Charli Bobinchuck’s death in June at a crosswalk that her father believes lacks sufficient lighting.

Shoemaker confirmed that Hilton Head is exploring possibilities for the 11 marked crosswalks throughout the island that are not located at traffic signals.

“We are considering pedestrian signs and pedestrian-actuated push buttons at those locations,” he said. “The town is also proceeding with warning signals at and in advance of these crosswalks.”

Shoemaker added that the town approved funding Wednesday for more roadway lighting, pavement markings and reflectivity on both signs and at medians. The exact layout and structure for those fixtures is still under consideration, partially because some of the process requires state approval, but he said that the signing changes could take place by the end of 2018.

Nevertheless, Shoemaker said that the overall state of infrastructure on the island is not a contributing factor to the high number of crashes reported in the audit.

“Hilton Head Island has long prided itself on keeping ambient lighting to a minimum, but there are no glaring inefficiencies on roadway structures or any infrastructure problems leading to high number of traffic incidents or collisions,” he said.

Same problem, different reasons

Although both the BCSO and Hilton Head agree that the PSSG audit is not entirely accurate, their explanations for the high number of accidents differ somewhat.

Shoemaker said he believes that the biggest reason for the elevated crash rate on Hilton Head Island comes down to two factors: tourists not knowing their way around the island, and speeding.

“I would point to the number of visitors on an annual basis as visitors unfamiliar with the area,” he said.

Concerning speeding, Shoemaker said the town’s set speed limits are designed with the assumption that drivers will follow them, not surpass them by a few miles per hour.

“Motorists think 10 miles per hour above the speed limit is acceptable,” he said. “That’s not how we do it on Hilton Head Island. We provide easy and reasonable speed limits for drivers and for law enforcement to enforce.”

For Tanner, the biggest issue is much simpler: distracted driving.

“Driver inattention,” he said. “(It’s the) absolute leading cause for collisions throughout the country. Everyone’s doing everything else but driving their car.”

When it comes to whether the BCSO is providing enough officers to monitor distracted and speeding drivers, Tanner succinctly confirmed the department is going above and beyond.

“With few exceptions, staffing exceeds the need,” he said, quoting the audit itself.