Local and state law enforcement from not just South Carolina but also Georgia are coming together for Hands Across the Border, a campaign to put the brakes on drunken driving during the holiday weekend.
Officers from multiple agencies teamed up for a safety checkpoint at Exit 17 on Interstate 520 on Thursday night. The annual initiative wraps up what officers refer to as the 100 Deadly Days of Summer – the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day during which traffic fatalities typically spike.
More than 451,000 South Carolina residents are expected to travel this weekend, up 1.5 percent from last year, according to AAA Carolinas. Of those, 387,000 will be driving.
One reason behind the increase in travel is a decrease in gas prices, according to AAA. Gas prices have fallen 24 cents since July 4, and at $3.14 per gallon on Wednesday, South Carolina has the cheapest prices in the country.
Gas prices in Aiken on Thursday were as low as $2.98 at Sam’s Club on Jefferson Davis Highway, according to GasBuddy.com. Prices at surrounding stations ranged between $3.02 and $3.09.
With the additional traffic, there will also be additional law enforcement on the roadways.
“This one little weekend is when everybody works,” said Lance Cpl. Judd Jones, a spokesman for the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Thursday marked the 94th day of the 100 Deadly Days of Summer, and so far, there have been 172 deaths on South Carolina roadways, Jones said. That’s down from 204 fatalities at the same point last year and from 197 at the same point in 2012.
Jones urged drivers hitting the roads this weekend to expect heavier traffic and delays, and to give themselves extra time to get to their destinations.
“People are trying to get their last-minute weekend in before the end of summer,” he said. “You’ve got college football games going on, so that’s going to put extra traffic on the roads this weekend.”
Aiken Public Safety will be taking part in Hands Across the Border with DUI and safety checkpoints throughout the weekend. Motorists are advised to have their driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance close by if they approach a checkpoint.
“We always pay special attention to traffic enforcement, particularly DUI enforcement, during the major holiday weekends,” Lt. Jake Mahoney said.
In addition to not drinking and driving, law enforcement is stressing the use of seat belts, and to contact authorities if a reckless or possibly impaired driver is spotted by calling either 911 or *HP.
Mahoney said he thinks the most telling statistic is that roughly 40 percent of all fatalities in South Carolina are alcohol-related. He noted that about 440 people had died on state roadways by mid-August.
“If you took that percentage, you’re looking at cutting that number almost in half,” he said. “That’s 200 people that would still be alive to see their kids graduate from high school, walk their daughter down the aisle, enjoy their retirement.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.