The year 2018 was barely a month old when a tragic accident on Highway 221 in Laurens claimed four lives, including those of a Laurens man and three teenagers from Union County.
That three-car crash on Sunday morning proved to be a carryover from a deadly 2017 on Laurens County’s roads and highways and a harbinger of things to come in 2018. Through Monday morning, 32 traffic fatalities had been recorded in the county in 2018, following 29 in 2017.
“With last year and this year, we were up on fatalities in Laurens County,” said South Carolina Highway Patrol Cpl. Justin Sutherland. “It seems like it’s the same causes – speeding, seat belts, distracted driving and DUI are still our main focus and the major issues out there.”
Sutherland was preparing Monday for a New Year’s Eve crackdown as part of the SCHP’s Sober or Slammer Campaign.
Over the past four years, the SCHP reports 103 people have died in traffic accidents in Laurens County, part of a trend of rising fatalities due to traffic accidents across the Upstate.
“This year, there were a lot of single-vehicle collisions, so that says that maintaining a safe speed and limiting distractions in the vehicle is a big thing,” Sutherland said.
Stretches of I-26 and I-385 run through Laurens County, but Sutherland said both interstate accidents and wrecks on secondary roads have contributed to the county’s death toll in 2018. In 2017, a majority of the fatalities occurred on secondary roads within the county.
Regardless of the road, Sutherland said the factors behind the wrecks are the same.
“A lot of the time it’s a combination of those things – someone is driving over the speed limit and not wearing a seatbelt or they’re impaired and speeding or it’s a combination of all of those things,” he said. “It makes it extremely dangerous on the roadways.”
About 980 traffic fatalities were reported by the SCHP through Christmas of 2018, up slightly from 976 in 2017.
Though Laurens County’s total of 32 traffic deaths in 2018 was significantly higher than the three counties closest to it in terms of population. Through Christmas, Kershaw County reported 17, Georgetown County reported 15 and Darlington County 20.
Sutherland said the SCHP will continue its Sober or Slammer campaigns during different times of the year and conduct other awareness programs in the county as it did in 2018.
“We’re hoping in 2019 to come in and try to reduce those fatalities and educate people about staying safer on the roadways,” he said.