Local, statewide police push importance of seat belt safety as Memorial Day travel begins
Police across the state are urging drivers to practice safe driving throughout the Memorial Day weekend, with an emphasis on the importance of buckling up.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety, along with law enforcement agencies statewide, will be participating in the 2020 Memorial Day Buckle Up South Carolina campaign which began Tuesday with officers conducting seat belt enforcement activities that will continue through the Memorial Day holiday.
The campaign is a S.C. Public Safety initiative in an effort to end all highway fatalities by combining high-visibility enforcement with heightened public awareness through advertising and publicity.
"Buckling up is one of our concerns because we want people to get to their destination safely," said Lance Cpl. Tyler Tidwell with the S.C. Highway Patrol. "You could be doing everything right and then somebody out of nowhere can hit you. Seat belts do save lives."
As of May 19, over half – 55% – of the state's 284 vehicle fatalities this year were unrestrained vehicle occupants, according to S.C. Highway Patrol.
Of those statewide fatalities, 10 were in Aiken County and nine of those were unrestrained vehicle occupants.
So far in May, there have been four vehicle-related deaths in Aiken County where the vehicle occupant was not restrained.
"There's no doubt that wearing seat belts saves lives," said Lt. Jake Mahoney with Aiken Public Safety. "I have personally seen some people walk away from severe motor vehicle collisions because the seat belts saved their lives."
For the next two weeks, the Traffic Enforcement Unit and Patrol Division officers of Aiken Public Safety will be focused on seat belt enforcement.
Officers will be working together on several saturation events specifically looking for violations of South Carolina’s primary seat belt law. The Buckle Up South Carolina campaign will end May 31.
Memorial Day weekend also marks the beginning of the "100 Deadliest Days of Summer," a time from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend when state troopers see a rise in accidents due to more people traveling on the roads during the summer months.
Last year, there were 375 vehicle-related fatalities in South Carolina, according to Highway Patrol. Fourteen were in Aiken County.
Both Tidwell and Mahoney encourage drivers to not only use seat belts, but to be aware of other dangers on the roadways including speeding and impaired or distracted driving.
For the first time in 20 years AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19, according to a statement by AAA.
Last year, AAA reported approximately 43 million Americans, including 615,000 South Carolinians, were expected to travel either by road or sky.
Although AAA will not publish an annual forecast until next year, South Carolina Highway Patrol is still expecting more drivers to be on the road this Memorial Day weekend.
Drivers are urged to keep a safe distance between other drivers and practice defensive driving.
“We just want everyone to slow down and get to their destination safely," Tidwell said. "We do expect more people to be out on the roadways of South Carolina, especially now. We’re going to have more troopers out patrolling roadways."
Matthew Enfinger is the crime and courts reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @matt_enfinger