NORTH CHARLESTON — In 2011, fewer people died on South Carolina roads, but the trend toward safer travel isn’t being noticed among cyclists, walkers and bikers.
In just the first four months of 2012, 30 walkers died in South Carolina crashes and five cyclists lost their lives, according to state figures. Counting motorcyclists brings the figure to 63 deaths.
If that trend progresses unabated, the state could see a 65 percent increase in deaths over 2011.
“We call this segment of our population ‘vulnerable roadway users’ because … they are no match for a 3,000-pound automobile,” said Capt. J. C. Filyaw, the Troop Six commander based in North Charleston.
On Wednesday, the S.C. Department of Public Safety launched a statewide crackdown aimed at motorists who don’t make way for cyclists and walkers. The effort also includes an information component for pedestrians, bikers and cyclists.
“We have observed as gas prices continue to rise, people are seeking alternative forms of transportation,” Filyaw said. “That’s going to require more cooperation and attention on the part of everyone sharing our roadways.”
Though deaths among pedestrians, bikers and cyclists were lower in 2011 than just a few years ago, law enforcement had been recording a precipitous drop from 2006 until 2010, when the number began to tick upward.
Officers want motorists and other modes of travelers to play nice on the roads. Sharing is the key word, Filyaw said.
Motorists are obligated under the law to make way for cyclists in the road. They have a right to be there, the commander said. Pedestrians, when there is a sidewalk available, are obligated to use it. They should walk against traffic.
And cyclists are supposed to obey all the laws of motorized vehicles. That means riding with traffic, not against it, he said.
“Along with the right to be there comes the responsibility to obey the laws,” Filyaw said. “If you run out in front of a 3,000-pound vehicle, there is no match there, you are going to lose.”
MAKING A BAD SITUATION WORSE
Losing ground in the effort to protect all roadway users is troubling since South Carolina already had a rotten reputation as a place to commute via alternative means.
The state ranks as one of the least-popular places in which to bike (just 0.2 percent opt to bike to work), but more than 10 percent of all traffic-related deaths here in 2011 involved pedestrians or cyclists, according to a report by the Alliance for Biking and Walking.
In July 2011, a West Ashley anesthesiologist was . Dr. Mitchell Hollon’s death resulted in a bike ban on the busy bridge, and it spiked in increased discussion about the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.
The driver of the AT&T van that struck Hollon was cited and fined $113 for improper lane usage.
Turns out, Charleston County led the state in pedestrian deaths from 2006 to 2010, Filyaw said. The Troop Six region, which includes Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester and Jasper counties, saw 93 fatal pedestrian collisions in that same period.
Officers say they can only spread the word and issue tickets when they see people break the laws. And beginning this week, you may see more blue lights as officers try to stem the loss of pedestrian lives.
Officers all across the state are planning an information campaign to tamp down on the number of pedestrian-involved collisions. Officers have reflective wristbands for pedestrians that offer tips, and there are leaflets with information on how to dress if you walk at night.
“A simple step, like wearing light-colored clothes and reflective materials, could have saved many of our pedestrians’ lives,” Filyaw said. “We need motorists to be aware of this problem.”