CLINTON — As of Memorial Day, 141 people have died on South Carolina roadways. Although that number is down by 17 from last year, the S.C. Highway Patrol and other agencies are working to get that number down to zero.
Three of those roadway deaths happened in Newberry County, two of which were because of someone driving while under the influence.
Last week, SCHP Troop 2 gathered at the Clinton Public Safety building with local police agencies and community advocates to discuss the dangers of drinking and driving and what people can do to prevent it.
“Too often a factor in roadway fatalities is a driver who decides to drink,” said David Yongue, commander of the SCHP Troop 2. “DUIs are the leading cause of roadway fatalities. Troopers in our state focus on drunk drivers, but the public can help watch out for them as well.”
To help put a stop to DUI and other roadway fatalities, the SCHP has started its 2014 Sober or Slammer campaign, and a new social media movement called #TargetZeroSC. The idea of the new campaign is to help accomplish zero roadway deaths for South Carolina each year, and promote safe driving.
However, some people express their doubts to the SCHP over the goal.
“When someone says that zero deaths is an unobtainable goal, we ask them, how many deaths are acceptable in your family,” said Yongue. “One traffic fatality is too many.”
One impact Yongue hopes the campaigns will bring is the mindset people have about DUI.
“The impact that needs to change is that DUI is an acceptable crime to commit,” said Yongue.
One person who is trying to help change this mindset is Jon Erik Hartfield. In 2003, nine days after Hartfield had been accepted into the University of South Carolina, the car he was a passenger in was struck by a drunk driver.
The drunk driver did not survive. Hartfield did and was left permanently brain damaged. However, this did not stop him from being a voice in the fight against drinking and driving.
“If I can make a change or impact anyone else’s life, I will do it, because that is what God calls us to do,” said Hartfield. “However, I cannot do it all by myself and that is why all these great people are here today.”
Fire Commander Scott Shiflet also supports both the target zero campaign and the sober or slammer campaign, due to what he sees when it is too late.
“We (fire department) respond after an accident has happened. We see first hand what a DUI can do, and what it does to the families of everyone involved,” said Shiflet.
Another way the SCHP would like to get the #TargetZeroSC campaign out is to go speak to the local colleges in the area, including Newberry College and Piedmont Technical College.
“Beginning each year, college freshmen are out on their own, and we want to make sure they make the right decision,” said Yongue.
One aspect of DUI Yongue would like to explain to students is the number associated with the decision to drink and drive.
“Every two hours someone is injured as a result of a DUI, and each day one person dies from a DUI,” said Yongue. “Deciding to drive after drinking instead of taking a $20 cab ride could cost you at least $10,000 for an arrest and conviction.”
The implications of being charged with a DUI do not stop outside of the courthouse, Matthew Firmin of Firmin Ford Inc. said it might be impossible for someone with a DUI conviction to obtain a new vehicle.
“Not only would it be hard for someone with a DUI to get finance for a down payment, but, according to the law, dealerships cannot sell a car to someone without a current driver’s license, and when you are arrested for DUI, your license is usually suspended,” said Firmin.