Country Roads, Take Me Home . . . Safely

While John Denver’s timeless hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” conjures up images of tree-shaded lanes winding through the hills, leading to the old home place, for too many in South Carolina, those country roads have led to injury and death.

In late June, a report was released by national transportation research group TRIP, ranking South Carolina’s rural roads as the deadliest in the nation.  In fact, the study found that the death rate on our rural roads (3.8 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel) is nearly four times higher than on all other roads in the state. Although Interstate highways often traverse rural areas, the TRIP numbers reflect “rural, non-Interstate routes,” so those horrible crashes we see on I-20, I-26 and I-77 aren’t factored into the calculations that landed us at the No. 1 spot.

Statistics from the South Carolina Department of Transportation do include 563 miles of Interstate highway in calculating that there are 5,222 miles of rural routes in SC, the location of 58% of the state’s traffic fatalities.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration used the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of rural/urban in finding that in 2015 there were 699 fatalities on SC rural roads, accounting for 72% of the state’s 977 total fatalities that year.

Whichever methodology you use, it’s undeniable that our state’s rural roads are dangerous and in need of a major overhaul. It’s so obvious that for the first time since 1987 our legislature voted to raise the state’s gasoline tax, by 12% over the next six years. The new rate went into effect July 1. This will provide funding for highway improvements, including Phase 1 of the Off-interstate Rural Road Safety Program, implementing projects on 29 rural roads in 25 counties — about 500 miles of the 2,000 most dangerous miles in SC. This phase of the program is expected to take three to four years, and the entire 2,000-mile project is expected to be complete in ten years.

The focus will be on reducing the number of fatalities and serious injuries from crashes in which the vehicle leaves the road. Rumble strips, paved shoulders, better signage, pavement markings, guardrails, cable barriers, specialized pavement treatments and cleared roadsides are some of the improvements included in the program.

You can view the entire list of projects in Phase 1 here.

Here in Richland County, motorists will be glad to know that a 13-mile section of Garners Ferry Road is on SCDOT’s to-do list. Between 2011 and 2015, it was the location of nine fatal crashes and an additional 23 crashes resulting in serious injury. Other priorities are a 20-mile stretch of Fairview Road (U.S. 178) and a 10-mile stretch of Edmund Highway (S.C. 302) in Lexington County.

Not Just in the Palmetto State

Perhaps you thought metropolitan areas, with their dense traffic, would be more dangerous than rural areas. However, although rural roads carry less than half of America’s traffic, they account for over half of the country’s traffic fatalities — 54 percent in 2015. Why?

Some experts note that many rural highways suffer from outdated design and layout, with narrow lanes, limited shoulders, sharp curves and pavement drop-offs. Rural routes were often constructed in a piecemeal fashion, over a period of years, and many have inconsistent lane widths and shoulders.

We know that in South Carolina one reason for rural crashes is the deplorable condition of the roads themselves. But highway safety officials and activists offer other explanations as well. People driving rural roads tend to drive faster, unimpeded by frequent stoplights and traffic jams — in 2015, 28% of rural fatalities were due to excessive speed. Rural crash victims also suffer from the increased time it takes to transport them to a hospital; 57 percent of rural drivers died en route to hospitals, compared to 42 percent for urban drivers.

MetLife offers these tips for dealing with conditions you might encounter on rural roads:

  • Slow down.
  • To avoid sliding on loose gravel, brake slowly when turning or coming to a stop.
  • If you hit a soft shoulder, avoid jerking the wheel. Instead slowly guide the vehicle back to the center of the road.
  • Increase your following distance to three to six seconds—more if your vision is obscured.
  • Stay to the far right when driving up a hill or around a curve.
  • Keep an eye out for wildlife and roaming livestock.
  • Do not swerve to miss an animal—you might veer into oncoming traffic or a ditch. Apply your brakes instead.

Seeking truth. Securing justice.

We at the Louthian Law Firm urge you to do everything you can to avoid becoming an unfortunate statistic on a country road. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in a crash caused by a negligent driver, South Carolina law entitles you to hold that party legally responsible for your medical expenses as well as any lost wages and other financial losses. You may also seek compensation for pain and suffering or loss of comfort, care and companionship of a loved one. And because we at the Louthian Law Firm know how financially devastating an accident can be, we never charge you a dime until your case is won. The deadline for filing a claim is already running, so contact the Louthian Law Firm for help by calling us at 1-803-454-1200. If you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.