Are SC roads worst in the nation?

A study released by Consumer Affairs this year has ranked SC roads the worst in the nation.

How does that compare to SC’s rankings in past years? And what exactly are these studies measuring? These studies may feel a bit misleading because it is not clear from the headlines exactly what is being studied, what the conclusions are, and what the potential fix would be.

Does it mean that the condition of SC roads is the worst in the nation? Does SC spend the least amount of money on highway maintenance?

Or, does it mean that SC has the most traffic fatalities in the nation? If the studies are based on traffic fatalities, is the conclusion that SC has the worst roads in the nation or that SC has the worst drivers in the nation? Would more comprehensive driver training solve the problem?

Would more highway maintenance solve the problem? Are we talking about potholes or are we talking about highway design and a need for better shoulders and safer intersections? Below, I’ll look at several related stories from the past few years and try to answer these questions.

2019: SC Roads Worst in the Nation

Consumer Affairs ranked SC roads worst in the nation for 2019, but what does that mean?

According to the report, they weighed a number of factors including:

  • How much SC spends per mile of road;
  • The number of traffic fatalities in SC;
  • The “percentage of total capital spending toward roadway expansion and repair;” and
  • Surveys from SC residents.

Methodology: To determine which states have the best or worst roads, we calculated how much each state spends per mile of road, looked at the number of motor crash fatalities in each state, factored in the percentage of total capital spending toward roadway expansion and repair and surveyed 1,418 consumers across the U.S. about road conditions near them.

According to the surveys, “South Carolina roads are ‘bumpy’ and ‘just nasty:”

According to our survey, South Carolina roads are “bumpy” and “just nasty.” A respondent in Fort Mill said the streets are “not adequate to handle the volume of traffic.” One respondent called Lancaster “pothole city,” and another in Little River reported cracks and missing pavement.

South Carolina has 77,364 miles of road, spends an average of $26 per mile, and 18% of SC’s roads are in “poor” condition. The report says there has been progress in SC because the state increased the gasoline tax by 4% two years ago:

However, there appears to be some progress. About two years ago, South Carolina increased taxes on gasoline by 4%, which has generated more than $149 million for state road improvements, including resurfacing projects.

“They are pretty bad right now, but a lot of road work is being done,” a Lexington resident said. “In about six months to a year, I should be able to rate it considerably higher.”

Are SC’s roads improving? Although SC may have generated $149 million for road improvements, has that affected the statistics?

2018: SC Roads Third Most Dangerous in the Nation

One problem with these studies is that each one measures different factors and each study may assign different importance or “weight” to each factor that they consider.

In 2019, SC has the worst roads in the nation. In 2018, SC roads were the “third most dangerous” in the nation:

Wall Street 24/7 has released its latest study of United States Roadways, ranking the safest and most unsafe by state. Coming in as the safest state is Rhode Island with Mississippi coming in as the worst. Six of the top ten worst regionally fall in the Southeast with South Carolina coming in this year’s survey as the 3rd worst state for roadway safety.

Does it mean the same thing? The 2018 study appears to be based on traffic fatalities, whereas the 2019 study also gives weight to the amount of money SC spends on highway maintenance and improvements. The 2018 study provides these statistics:

Road deaths per 100,000: 20.5
2016 roadway fatalities: 1,015 (13th most)
Seat belt use: 94%
Deadliest holiday in 2016: Martin Luther King’s Birthday (16 fatal crashes)
Fatal crashes on rural roads: 60%

2016: SC Drivers Third Worst in the Nation

If we go back to 2016, yet another study by carinsurancecomparison.com announced that SC has the third worst drivers in the nation, weighing factors that included traffic fatalities and traffic violations like speeding and careless driving:

…using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranked the state’s drivers third worst in the nation. It cites statistics for roadway fatalities, speeding and careless driving, among other factors. The study, which is in its fifth year, has placed South Carolina among the nation’s top five worst states for the past four years.

From this yearly procession of barely scientific studies, we can conclude that:

  • SC roads are among the worst in the nation,
  • SC drivers are among the worst in the nation, and
  • SC highway fatalities are among the highest in the nation.

The common thread among the studies, however, is the traffic fatalities – no matter how you slice it, the statistics rely heavily on the fact that more people die on SC highways than in most other states.

What is the Purpose of These Studies? 

Are the studies done to raise awareness of each state’s traffic problems and what can be done to save lives on the highways?

Sure, in part. To provide some clarity, though, these studies are put together from readily available statistics, analyzed from different angles with different weights assigned to different factors, to produce articles that are click bait.

Consumer Affairs releases a study about highway safety, then media sites write articles about the study, linking to Consumer Affairs’ website and giving them Google juice and exposure from hundreds of high-traffic media websites.

It catches the eye of insurance companies, insurance defense attorneys, and plaintiffs’ lawyers, who then write articles about the studies, linking to both the studies and the media websites who wrote about the studies, providing more Google juice to both Consumer Affairs and the media websites…

Despite the click bait model of distributing the information, is it important information?

Yes, and hopefully SC government will notice and do more to make our highways safe and to prevent unnecessary deaths.

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