What is being done about the Midlands' most dangerous intersecti - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

What is being done about the Midlands' most dangerous intersections?

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Tens of thousands of drivers stream in and out of Columbia every day. If you're one of them, it's likely you've taken your chances through one of the city's 10 most dangerous intersections.

"Any road that is a main travel artery into the city of Columbia can have the potential for being, and having a lot of collisions," said Columbia Police traffic enforcement Sgt. Derek Miller.

Columbia Police traffic enforcement and the city's engineering department work together to track crashes generating Columbia's top 10 trouble spots. Where is the top spot? Bull Street and Elmwood Avenue.

"You have two main arteries feeding in to the city of Columbia. Where you have Interstate 277 or Highway 277 and Interstate 26, bringing thousands of vehicles in at that one location," Miller said.

It's not just tops for collisions this year. We found it topped the list for the last 3 years. You think that's bad? We found it's just one of three intersections on Elmwood in a quarter mile stretch on the top 10 list. The only intersection we found marked was Assembly and Blanding, which has not been on any of the lists over the last 3 years.

At Elmwood and Assembly, they've had so many pedestrian crashes they've resorted to drastic measures to get people safely across the street.

"We turn the lights red in all directions to let pedestrians cross when somebody pushes that pedestrian push button," said Columbia traffic engineer David Brewer.

"A lot of the pedestrian collisions that we do investigate, is where the pedestrian has contributed to the collision by crossing the road unlawfully and things of that nature," Miller said.

The city has had so many pedestrian crashes in Five Points, including a fatal crash in June at Harden and Greene Streets. Recently, they repainted the intersection's crosswalk which has forced drivers to take notice.

So how is the city trying to improve the safety at these intersections? No one likes a ticket, but officers say it's a persuasive tool.

"You have to have that high visibility of enforcement, and for people to basically see the blue lights flashing and to slow down a little bit," Miller said.

It also comes down to drivers not rushing though the intersections when the light turns red.

"That's a violation and that's a four-point ticket," Brewer said.

But what about across the county line in Lexington? What's the traffic situation like over there?

Patrolmen from the South Carolina Highway Patrol have been picking up the pieces from several DUI cases in the county since January.

Take the case of 6-year-old Emma Longstreet, for example. She was the first casualty in many DUI crashes in the county this year. Lexington County leads the state in fatal crashes and 68 percent came at the hands of a driver under the influence.

"That's a big problem for the whole community," said Highway Patrol Capt. CB Hughes.

And if you think that DUI is just a "this year" problem, you're wrong.

"They average about 50 percent over the last five years," Hughes said.

The sobering reality -- it's higher than the state's average at 44 percent, and the national average at 32 percent. The numbers have interest from the Lexington County Sheriff's Department to the Highway Patrol. 

"We're working together to try and solve the problem, but as of this date, it still continues," Hughes said.

This year, the majority of collisions happened between midnight Saturday and 3:00 a.m. Sunday with drivers between the ages of 21 and 40. The problem? Drinking and driving.

"I think a lot of folks have it in their mind that it's not going to happen to me, or I'm good to drive and they're actually not," Hughes said.

It seems no one's safe.

"There's no pattern to it," Hughes said. "They're all over the county."

The Highway Patrol has a three-man DUI team, but overall, they're down 10 troopers from just 4 years ago, same with patrols from the sheriff's department. So far this year, they've stopped 411 DUI drivers, 158 only after a crash, and it's only July. In 2011, they handled 440 cases for the entire year with 181 crashes. The numbers are so bad that Lexington County is one of nine statewide to get a grant to fight DUI related crashes.  A county-wide assessment found the cause.

"Many people are being over-served, whether it's in bars or restaurants or people's homes which is a huge risk to the public," said Caroline Humphries with Lexington County CAST DUI Task Force.

For such a life or death public safety issue, our investigation found little of your tax dollars is being spent to protect and educate the community.

"We receive about over $100,000 a year -- minimal resources to address this large problem, so we're really having to get creative and work with other agencies," Humphries said.

Where does the money go? Some is put toward Merchant Education programs teaching bartenders and servers how and when to cut someone off, but the problem is participation since the class is voluntary.

"There are some locations which folks get over-served or they go in and buy beer or whatever kind of alcohol from a convenience store that are really saying, 'Hey, I don't know whether I should be serving or selling you this,' so that's an issue," Hughes said.

Not all the blame can be placed on bars and restaurants. It's ultimately up to the individual driver.

"You're the one that makes the decision to get out there, well first to drink, then you make the decision to drive," Hughes said.

Funding also pays for 15 off-duty officers to conduct public safety checkpoints, hoping to catch drunk drivers before they catch up with you. 

"We're not giving up by no means," Hughes said.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.

SIDEBAR: Dangerous Intersections

Updated:

Click here to read DUI statistics for Lexington County (PDF)Click here to read a top 10 list of the most dangerous intersections in the city of Columbia (PDF) More>>

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