A new report found South Carolina has the nation’s highest fatality rate along rural roads.
The transportation research group TRIP cited federal data in its report released Tuesday which calculate 3.82 deaths per every 100 million vehicle miles traveled along South Carolina’s country roads. While the number may not seem like a lot, it is 22 percent higher than the next-worst state California at 3.19 deaths.
“A significant challenge in South Carolina is to reduce serious crashes and even more so traffic fatalities on its rural roads,” the group’s spokesman Rocky Moretti said.
While TRIP blamed poor infrastructure, the same report also noted South Carolina was in the better half of states for its percentage of rural roads in poor condition. It was also only 18th-worst for percentage of rural bridges which are structurally deficient. The report also did not factor in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data which shows South Carolina consistently has one of the nation’s highest rates for deaths which involve drunken driving.
The report notes many rural roads in South Carolina have thin or nonexistent shoulders, no “rumble strips” to alert drivers if they are drifting off the roadway, and often lack reflective pavement markings for nighttime driving. They also can be a lengthy trip for responding ambulances.
South Carolina’s Department of Transportation has shifted its focus the past year towards safety improvements along its highway corridors with the highest fatality rates. Transportation Secretary Christie Hall said 30 percent of the state’s rural deaths and serious injuries occur along the same 5 percent of roads. Hall said her agency plans to eventually use $50 million annually in new gas tax money to help improve those worst corridors.
Moretti said the work will only get more expensive the longer it waits. “Research has found that every dollar of deferred maintenance on roads or bridges cost $4 or $5 down the road,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Because, if you don’t make the repairs now, they only become more costly in the future.”