HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - As of Sunday, Nov. 3, the South Carolina Department of Public Safety reports 813 people have died on South Carolina Highways so far this year, which is slightly lower compared to 2019.
However, Horry County still tops the list at 66 deadly crashes so far this year. That’s five more people who’ve died on Horry County roads since this time last month. As a response, lawmakers are working hard to make sure area roads are safer for visitors and residents.
Sen. Greg Hembree said crews with the South Carolina Department of Transportation are working to repave dangerous roads in the county by using money from the gas tax. He points out, specifically, that Horry County has received more money than any county from that fund.
“SCDOT, when they decide which road projects to do, they have a formula they use. It’s based on traffic counts, based on condition of the road. Their objective standards that they use when determining, and quite frankly we just have so many miles because we’re geographically the largest county in the state. We have so many miles of state highway road system, so that’s one of the reasons why, plus we know a lot of those roads have just gone without for so long. That’s another reason why and we get so much traffic, but those are the contributing factors,” said Hembree.
Hembree said there’s many factors that could be behind why local roads are so dangerous. With Horry County being a tourist community, every year the area welcomes a high volume of visitors over a short period of time. Many of them are traveling by car and unfamiliar with the roads.
The senator added that many are on vacation when visiting, meaning the risk of DUI also go up. Still, the biggest contributing factor he’s working to crack down on is distracted driving.
In response, Hembree, along with several other state lawmakers, are pushing for stricter cellphone laws behind the wheel through the Hands Free Act. He believes the current laws are watered down and by making stricter cellphone laws, it can cut the death rate down significantly.
“Right now, texting and driving, it’s a $25 fine. So, it’s really got very little deterrent effect. It’s very hard to prove because all the driver has to say is, ‘Oh, I was looking up a phone number,' or, ‘Oh, I was looking at a map,’ Hembree said.
He added the bill is currently in committee and could be in effect as early as next year. With all the increased construction in the area and road improvement projects already happening, he’s also pushing for stricter work zone laws.
Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught points out the county not only welcomes more visitors each year, but also more permanent residents from out of state, which is why he's pushing for better signage on roads. Horry County is also working to repave roads year-round through its budget and widen roads through its RIDE III projects. One major project already underway this year is the widening of Carolina Forest Boulevard.
“Our roads, our county roads specifically, are on a rotating basis as far as being paid and all this concern, and that rotating basis is based on how much traffic is going on that particular road and we predict a lifetime for that road and we repave it at the end of that lifetime before it gets bad and we could stay on top of it," Vaught said. "We already have money budgeted for doing that kind of thing.”
Additionally, Vaught said over the past few years, law enforcement has stepped up to help make roads safer.
“We’ve started with our Horry County Police Department trying to augment the traffic enforcement laws that the highway patrol already does. We have a motor patrol with motorcycles now and we’re doing a lot more traffic stops and a lot more speeding stops and that kind of thing, like some radar units now. But we had gotten away from that before so we’re doing a lot more traffic enforcement,” said Vaught.
Local and state lawmakers are asking the public to be patient with the process and said it will all be worth the wait in the end.