(This article was originally published in the KC Current.)
There is no doubt that Kershaw County is growing. Our population has grown 18.42% since 2000, which is above the state average of 17.83% and well above the national average of 11.61%. But we don’t need statistics to tell us that. In Elgin and Lugoff, new neighborhoods are going up to house the urban sprawl from Columbia. Kershaw County is quickly transitioning from rural to suburban, and our roads are increasingly congested.
With increased traffic on the road, we’re experiencing more incidents between motor vehicles and vulnerable road users like pedestrians, runners, and cyclists. Recreational runners, walkers, and cyclists enjoy Kershaw County for its miles of rural roads and beautiful countryside. A growing number of Kershaw County residents are walking or biking to work, school, and running errands. But these vulnerable road users are encountering uninformed, inattentive and inconsiderate drivers every day. Vulnerable road users are literally risking their lives when they walk out their doors.
South Carolina law is very clear about the right to the road for those on bicycles. As per SECTION 56-5-3420: “A person riding a bicycle upon a roadway must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle [...]”. Harassing a cyclist is also illegal, as per SECTION 56-5-3445: “It is unlawful to harass, taunt, or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle.” It is the duty of the driver of a vehicle to “at all times maintain a safe operating distance between the motor vehicle and a bicycle.”
Similar laws exist for pedestrians (walkers and runners) and it is important to note that walkers, runners and cyclists have duties and responsibilities to abide by the traffic laws in addition to the rights afforded them.
The health benefits of riding, walking, or running are undisputed. In South Carolina, 32.3% of adults and 32.9% of children are overweight or obese. This is due to changes in diet habits, physical activity levels, and tobacco use. Part of Kershaw County’s VisionKershaw2030 is to improve the health and wellbeing of its citizens, and being active is a fantastic way to do that. But Kershaw County citizens are reluctant to bike, run, or walk on our roads when they are made unsafe by inconsiderate drivers.
Driving a vehicle is a great responsibility. We go through training and take a test to earn our driver’s license. Our driver’s license can be revoked for a DUI, vehicular manslaughter, or other grave misuse of our cars. This is because we are driving a 2 ton vehicle that can very easily kill someone. It’s worth keeping that in mind as we approach a runner, walker, or cyclist on our roads. Using your vehicle in an aggressive manner or as a weapon to intimidate someone is poor form, and unnecessary in a community where everyone has a right to the road.
This isn’t just about bad manners. Kershaw County citizens have already been hurt and killed by distracted drivers, careless drivers, and aggressive drivers. Lugoff made the national news when Deputy Chelsea Cockrell was hit at 40mph by a driver distracted by his phone. In June 2019, a pedestrian lost her life when she was hit by a truck while walking in Lugoff. Both of these incidents could have been prevented if the drivers of these vehicles were operating them responsibly.
Two groups have been founded to advocate for better infrastructure and resources for our citizens: KC Trails and Kershaw County Runners, Walkers, & Cyclists. KC Trails was established as a citizens group to promote and advocate for trails in Kershaw County, while Kershaw County Runners, Walkers, & Cyclists’ mission is to make our county a safer place for all road users. Over the next few months, we plan to share with you advice on how to be a safer driver around vulnerable road users, and safety tips for runners, walkers, and cyclists on our roads. We believe our county and its citizens will benefit greatly by embracing multiple forms of transportation that will lead to economic growth, better health, and improve our environment. We’re asking all drivers to do one thing: Slow Down. Give Room. Save Lives. We hope to see you out on the roads soon!