If you look at a map of South Carolina, you’ll see interstate highways crisscrossing it from north to south and east to west. More than 700 miles of interstate run through South Carolina. According to a 2010 report (the most recent data available), four of our five interstates landed on a list of the 100 deadliest interstates:
- I-95 covers 199 miles, passing near Hilton Head and going through Florence. It is number 35 for fatalities from 2004 through 2008, with 194 total, or 0.82 fatalities per mile.
- I-26 covers 221 miles, running from Charleston through Columbia and to Spartanburg. It is number 47 for fatalities from 2004 through 2008, with 175 total, or 0.73 fatalities per mile.
- I-85 covers 106 miles, passing near Greenville and Spartanburg. It is number 64 for fatalities from 2004 through 2008, with 69 total, or 0.58 fatalities per mile.
- I-20 covers 141 miles, through Columbia and ending near Florence. It is number 67 for fatalities from 2004 through 2008, with 94 total, or 0.57 fatalities per mile.
- I-77 covers 91 miles, from Columbia to Charlotte, NC. It is not on the top 100 list.
Interstates make travel easier for commuters, vacation travelers, transport companies, and even emergency vehicles. But interstates are also the scene of some horrific car accidents, tragic loss of life, and multiple-car pile-ups resulting in injuries of every description.
Biggest Causes of Interstate Accidents
Accidents can have multiple causes, and sometimes causes are difficult to pin down. However, here are some of the most common causes of interstate accidents.
Wrong-way Accidents – It’s hard to understand how a car can go up an exit ramp and drive into oncoming traffic. And yet wrong-way accidents do happen, and not infrequently.
On I-85 in Spartanburg County during February, 2015, a wrong-way driver caused a wreck that involved six vehicles, according to South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers. Four people were killed.
Debris – According to the AAA Foundation, about 25,000 wrecks annually in North America are attributed to road debris, as well as 80 to 90 deaths. Shredded tires, car parts, dead animals, furniture, garbage—all of these things can be hazardous to a vehicle traveling at interstate speeds.
In Dillon on I-95 near exit 190 during late September, 2014, a 26-year-old male passenger died because of a car accident caused by road debris. Swerving to avoid tire debris caused the driver of a Subaru Outback to lose control and cross the median strip, colliding with a tractor trailer heading in the opposite direction. The other three of the four occupants of the Subaru had to be taken to the hospital. The driver of the tractor trailer was not injured.
The Presence of Trucks – More than a half-million truck accidents happen each year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Our interstates provide popular routes for all kinds of trucks trying to meet a deadline in the delivery of goods. Travel any interstate for a few miles and you’re likely to see 18-wheelers, transfer trucks, semis, big rigs, tankers, dump trucks, and tow trucks. Whether they’re barreling down the highway or parked on the shoulder for a rest, trucks can be involved in horrific accidents.
The Greenburg-Spartanville area is among the deadliest in SC for tractor-trailer accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the cities in our state with the highest number of 18-wheeler accident deaths included Greenville (7 deaths), Lexington (6), Spartanburg (5), and Florence (5).
I-26, frequently traveled by trucks, was the scene of one terrible accident recently. A fiery wreck between exits 104 and 106 in May of 2015 involved 10 vehicles, including a gasoline tanker, another tractor trailer, and eight others. Some of the vehicles caught fire, with terrible injuries as a result.
Speed – One of the reasons for the popularity of interstates is the lack of stop lights, stop signs, and turns. People can drive faster and get to their destination quicker. But people often drive faster than the posted speed limit, or faster than the road conditions will safely allow, causing accidents and injuries. Speeding is a well-known contributing cause to many accidents. I-26, with traffic jams and speeds that vary widely, has been characterized as plagued by speeders.
Weather – Rain, fog, black ice, and even snow can cause a South Carolina interstate accident. The consequences, however, are likely to be dire because of the number of trucks on the roadway and the relatively high speeds of vehicles on interstate highways.
Black ice caused dozens of accidents across the Upstate on the morning of February 20, 2012, including several on I-26 in Spartanburg County. One accident involved two vehicles on either side of the interstate. Two other accidents slowed traffic but did not result in injuries. Several accidents were also reported in Greenville County around I-85.
Construction – Construction areas on interstates can be a contributing factor, along with the variable speeds and traffic congestion that often go along with them. Construction areas have reduced speed limits that are often ignored.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol confirmed that a fatal crash happened on I-95 during March of 2015 because of construction on the Great Pee Dee River Bridge. The interstate was shut down for nearly 12 hours after the fiery multi-vehicle crash, which involved two tractor-trailers, with one car pinned under one of the trailers. In total, five people died in the accident, two from Pennsylvania and three from Ontario, Canada.
Fatigue – Drivers who are traveling the interstate on a long haul – whether on a family vacation or a delivery route – can get lulled into a near-trancelike state by the uninspiring scenery, the drone of the tires, or just the fatigue caused by being behind the wheel for hours on end. Tests have shown that driving after 17 hours of sustained wakefulness is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. Truckers are governed by OSHA’s Hours-of-Service regulations, but we have to rely on the common sense of individual drivers to take routine breaks or to pull off the road when they become drowsy. It is estimated that around 1,500 people die each year in the U.S. because someone fell asleep while driving.