National Trial Lawyers member Bert Louthian says his state must improve the safety of its roads after being ranked at the bottom of a recent study from WalletHub in which South Carolina fared poorly. The study ranked states based on a number of safety-related issues, including climate disasters, on-the-job injuries and road safety. Overall, South Carolina placed 41st, but it ranked 49th in road safety and dead last in the rate of traffic deaths per miles traveled.
Injury attorney Bert Louthian said that in his years of experience representing victims of negligent driving, he’s come to believe that there are solutions available to improve road safety.
“There are two significant ways to make our motorists safer,” Louthian said. “The first requires institutional change, while the second requires personal responsibility. Primarily, this entails enacting better laws and improving driver behavior.”
Louthian said that distracted driving has become a major problem on our roads over the last decade. The emergence of the smartphone, along with other mobile devices, has contributed significantly to the increase of distraction behind the wheel, he said.
Louthian is not alone in his concern over distracted driving. In a recent survey conducted by AAA, 88 percent of drivers said that distraction is an increasing problem. Half of those surveyed said they had witnessed other drivers texting or emailing, and more than one-third admitted to doing it themselves.
Self-regulating our behaviors can lead to fewer crashes and save lives, Louthian said.
“Human error contributes to more than 90 percent of crashes,” Louthian said. “I see it frequently in my practice. It’s frustrating, because so many of the injuries people suffer on our roads are entirely preventable.”
While encouraging drivers to take safer measures behind the wheel, the influence of South Carolina’s traffic laws on driver behavior should not be overlooked, Louthian said.
South Carolina’s traffic safety laws are not as strict as those in other states. For example, the state does not have a complete ban on mobile device usage by drivers. Motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets after the age of 21.
Improving state laws and giving police the tools for enforcement could dramatically impact driver safety, Louthian said. To illustrate this point, he referenced the effectiveness of Operation Southern Shield, a week-long period in July during which law enforcement in South Carolina and four other states ramp up efforts to ticket speeders, distracted drivers and drivers not wearing a seat belt.
In 2017, Operation Southern Shield led to around 15,000 traffic stops, which reduced highway fatality deaths by around 35 percent, according to law enforcement officials. Louthian said this highlights the need for both traffic officers and drivers to take speed limits seriously.
Growing the ranks of state troopers to patrol roads could also help reduce the number of crashes year-round, he said.
Speeding contributes to more than 25 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2017, there were more than 45,000 speed-related collisions on South Carolina’s roads. Nearly 38 percent of road deaths stemmed from speed-related crashes, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
Other measures could also be taken by South Carolina, including investing in the state’s infrastructure and shoring up conditions of rural roads. The state’s rural roads are some of the deadliest in the U.S.
The Department of Transportation has estimated that fixing South Carolina’s roads would require an annual investment of $943 million, which could be used to repave and widen deteriorating roads, in addition to adding safety features such as rumble strips and guard rails.
Louthian said that while allocating nearly a billion dollars annually in infrastructure might not be realistic, lawmakers should strive to dramatically increase the amount of money invested in fixing crumbling roads.
“There are several options we have at our disposal,” Louthian said. “We should consider all of them and make some big investments to fix this problem. Nearly 1,000 people die on our state's roads every year, and I believe that we can do better by our motorists.”