South Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on dangers to pedestrians:
More than 150 pedestrians a year are killed on South Carolina roads. And the situation is worsening. Already this year, the S.C. Department of Public Safety has reported 28 pedestrian deaths, four more than at the same time a year ago.
New estimates by the Governors Highway Safety Association show pedestrian deaths in the U.S. have reached a 28-year high. A GHSA report determined 6,227 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2018 — a 4 percent increase over 2017 and the highest mortality rate since 1990.
The GHSA, a nonprofit group representing U.S. highway and safety offices, identified factors in the increase, including the popularity of SUVs and trucks, which are more likely to kill a human because of the size and weight difference. The number of SUVs involved in pedestrian deaths is up by 50 percent since 2013.
The behavior of drivers and pedestrians is also to blame. The increase in cellphone use over the past decade “can be a significant source of distraction for all road users,” according to the GHSA report. Drivers as a whole also are paying less attention.
Also, in about half of traffic crashes that ended in pedestrian deaths in 2017, either the driver or pedestrian or both reportedly were impaired.
While impaired driving is often targeted in the highway safety discussion, too little focus is placed on impaired pedestrians.
Consider a leading cause of pedestrian deaths in South Carolina is a person or persons illegally being in the roadway. Intoxication is a factor.
Pedestrian responsibility is as much a key to saving lives as any single action. Beyond sobriety, pedestrians should know the law and how to remain safe.
There is equally the problem of lack of knowledge by roadway users of laws regarding pedestrians. Pedestrians are directed by law to use a sidewalk, shoulder of the roadway or, if neither is available, to walk as far on the edge of the roadway as possible. Pedestrians also should walk facing traffic.
It will take increased awareness and attention to safety by drivers and pedestrians to reverse the trend of more deaths.
As GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins stated: “While we have made progress reducing fatalities among many other road users in the past decade, pedestrian deaths have risen 35 percent” since 2008. The alarm bells continue to sound on this issue; it’s clear we need to fortify our collective efforts to protect pedestrians and reverse the trend.”
The Post and Courier of Charleston on dam safety and flooding:
In 2015, torrential rains fell across South Carolina, and about 50 dams failed, triggering South Carolina’s worst flooding in modern history.
State lawmakers increased funding to the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s dam safety office, which until then had two employees to inspect 2,400 regulated dams, but they did nothing to strengthen our anemic dam safety law.
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew took out 20 more regulated dams.
In 2018, a dozen regulated dams fell to Hurricane Florence, and catastrophic flooding crippled much of the Pee Dee. Some of those dams were long overdue for state-mandated repairs.
But when faced with this string of devastating events, the Senate Agriculture Committee gave a hearty endorsement Thursday to a bill that would actually weaken our dam-safety law. It is a dangerous measure that should be stopped in its tracks.
Granted, S.107 does require dam owners to give DHEC their phone numbers and email addresses, complete a dam safety checklist and notify emergency officials if they have “reason to believe that the dam or reservoir is near failure or has failed.”
But the bill also removes oversight of an estimated 1,600 “low-hazard” dams — some of which damaged public roads in recent floods. (An earlier version went so far as to specify that dam owners are under no obligation to alert anyone downstream that their dams are about to breach.) It says DHEC can exempt owners from completing a dam safety checklist if that would “impose a significant financial hardship on the owner.” And it gives some dam owners a refundable tax credit for repairing their dams.
The problem with deregulating most dams seems obvious. Those last two changes need some elaboration. The first says people who own dams that could endanger our lives and our property do not even have to complete a safety checklist if it would cause “a significant financial hardship.” Never mind the significant financial hardship that the breach of those dams imposes on individuals and society.
The second one means people who benefit from owning a dam can essentially hand the rest of us the bill for reducing the chance that their dam will harm us or our property. That’s like saying swimming pool owners can charge the public for building a fence around their property to keep the toddler next door from wandering in and drowning. It’s like saying a chemical business can charge the public for storing the inventory properly so it doesn’t blow up and destroy the neighborhood.
It’s true, as the S.C. Farm Bureau and its Senate allies argue, that we ought to reserve our toughest rules for dams whose failures are most likely to kill or cause major damage. It’s also true that our regulators should focus primarily on those most-dangerous dams.
It’s not true, though, that there should be no regulation of lower-risk dams. It’s also not true that our law needs to be weakened. What it needs — what lawmakers promised in 2015 but never did — is to be strengthened. S.107 is a step in the wrong direction.
Index-Journal of Greenwood on oversight and accountability for sheriffs:
Not too many days ago - March 6, to be exact - we weighed in on what almost seemed like a silly notion: lawmakers needing to ensure that people found guilty of moral turpitude cannot run for and be elected to the office of county sheriff.
While convicted felons cannot serve as sheriff because a felony conviction would prevent their being certified law officers in the Palmetto State, others have bent and broken the law in so many cases in recent years that lawmakers were compelled to add the “moral turpitude” clause.
Well, given the findings of a five-month long investigation by the staff of the Post & Courier, it would seem more than a “moral turpitude” clause is warranted. If you have not already done so, we commend the story for your reading.
Spoiler alert: The story highlights extreme abuse of office and power. It reflects an attitude of self-righteousness, arrogance and entitlement among our state’s more powerful law enforcement officers. As the story’ headline reads, we have sheriffs who view themselves as above the law.
The story recalls the tale of former McCormick County Sheriff Jimmy Gable who, in the mid-1980s was told newspaper owner Ken Fortenberry he “didn’t give a damn what the law was” when Fortenberry asked to see jail logs. Fortenberry shares his own tale in a book titled “Don’t Shoot the Messenger.”
The P&C’s story certainly does not apply a broad brush of condemnation to all sheriffs, past and present, but it certainly provides food for thought about whether South Carolina should revamp this office, a holdover from England. It is not enough that voters supposedly can decide whether a sheriff retains his seat every four years; there is an obvious need for better oversight and accountability that can be made public. Otherwise, those who are sworn to uphold the law can too easily skirt it, or abuse it, or violate it, and often do so unseen.