Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Times and Democrat on speeding and an increase in traffic deaths in the state:
Entering this past weekend, traffic fatalities in South Carolina were 12 more than at the same time a year ago. Already, 66 people have died on the state’s roads.
Four of the fatalities have occurred in Orangeburg County, with a 19-year-old being killed this past week.
Many factors make South Carolina’s roads among the most dangerous in the nation. Not the least of them is motorists traveling at excessive speeds.
Now comes a study that concludes that even slight changes in speed can have major effects.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Humanetics conducted crashes at three different impact speeds (40, 50, and 56 mph). They found slightly higher speeds were enough to increase the driver’s risk of severe injury or death. AAA-The Auto Club Group provided funding for the crash test research.
Drivers often travel faster than posted speed limits, but the groups are also concerned about officials raising limits.
Today, 41 states – including both North and South Carolina — allow 70 mph or higher speeds on some roadways, including eight states that have maximum speeds of 80 mph or more.
A 2019 IIHS study found that rising speed limits have cost nearly 37,000 lives over 25 years. AAA and IIHS urge policymakers to factor in this danger from higher speeds when considering speed limit changes.
“We conducted these crash tests to assess the effect of speeds on drivers and learned that a small increase could make a big difference on the harm to a human body,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “A speeding driver may arrive at their destination a few minutes faster, but is the trade-off of getting severely injured or even losing one’s life worth it if a crash occurs?”
The AAA Foundation collaborated with IIHS and Humanetics to examine how speed affects the likelihood and severity of occupant injury in a crash. As the crash speed increased in the tests, researchers found more structural damage and greater forces on the crash dummy’s entire body.
“Speeding could cause motorists to get to their destinations a few minutes early, but if it’s at the expense of getting severely injured or even losing one’s life then it’s definitely not worth taking that risk,” said Tiffany Wright, spokesperson, AAA-The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas.
“Higher speed limits cancel out the benefits of vehicle safety improvements like airbags and improved structural designs,” said Dr. David Harkey, IIHS president. “The faster a driver is going before a crash, the less likely it is that they’ll be able to get down to a survivable speed even if they have a chance to brake before impact.”
At the 40 mph impact speed, there was minimal intrusion into the driver’s space. But at the 50 mph impact speed, there was noticeable deformation of the driver side door opening, dashboard and foot area. At 56 mph, the vehicle interior was significantly compromised, with the dummy’s sensors registering severe neck injuries and a likelihood of fractures to the long bones in the lower leg.
“Our crash test dummies are instrumented with hundreds of sensors to measure the injury risk so that we understand the scientific limits of safety and injury prevention. Understanding that the risk of serious and permanent injury becomes significantly higher in crashes beyond statutory speed limits clearly demonstrates why there are limits in the first place,” said Jack Jensen, vice president of engineering at Humanetics.
At both 50 and 56 mph, the steering wheel’s upward movement caused the dummy’s head to go through the deployed airbag. This caused the face to smash into the steering wheel. Measurements taken from the dummy showed a high risk of facial fractures and severe brain injury.
The groups conclude that speed limits should not be raised or lowered only to manipulate traffic volume on a particular roadway. They urge states to use engineering and traffic surveys when setting maximum speed limits.
For their part, motorists should be aware that speeding is a primary factor in deaths on the road. Consider the potential deadly effect the next time you feel compelled to step on it.
The Post and Courier on actions to rein in state governors' emergency powers:
In Pennsylvania, legislators are preparing to hold a constitutional referendum in May to strip away many of their governor’s emergency powers, and make it easier for lawmakers to overturn emergency orders.
Wisconsin’s legislators were one vote away from repealing their governor’s statewide mask mandate Jan. 28 when they abruptly delayed the legislation over concerns that it would cost the state $49 million in federal aid.
Although those two efforts are the closest to becoming law, they are not unique, as legislators in more than half the states seek to rein in emergency powers because they don’t like the way their governors have used them to issue mask mandates, restaurant restrictions, statewide lockdowns and other responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Certainly there are lawmakers in South Carolina who believe that Gov. Henry McMaster’s modest public health restrictions have gone too far, but they are in the minority. The bill a House committee approved on Jan. 26 addresses an actual problem.
South Carolina’s emergency powers law was written with hurricanes in mind, so it limits emergency declarations to 15 days and requires a legislative act to extend them. Mr. McMaster has responded to this — with the silent but clear blessing of most legislators — by issuing a new emergency order every 15 days. An attorney general’s opinion in the spring said this complied with the law, but that’s just an opinion, and the issue is murky enough that we can’t be sure the S.C. Supreme Court would rule the same way if it had to.
So H.3443 flips the law around and says a state of emergency lasts until either the governor or the Legislature ends it.
It’s a smart fix that also includes a smart provision just in case we ever have an out-of-control governor, allowing a simple majority in the Legislature to quickly end any emergency order.
Normally, the House and Senate have to vote twice on every bill — which requires a minimum of five days in session — and send it to the governor for his signature. If he vetoes it, two-thirds of the House and Senate must vote to override the veto. The bill that the House could debate this week allows a single vote by the House and the Senate to end a state of emergency, with no opportunity for a veto.
The original version of the bill also allowed the Legislature to modify an emergency order — which could have the effect of rewriting state law — with that same 30-minute procedure, but the House Judiciary Committee wisely voted to require the normal five- (or more) day procedure for modification. That’s a crucial change that the full House and Senate need to adopt.
Rep. Jason Elliott argued that voters want their legislators to weigh in on emergency orders, so he tried to require, rather than merely allow, the House speaker and Senate president to convene the Legislature after 30 days so it can consider whether to end or modify an order. The committee wisely rejected that proposal, for constitutional and practical reasons, but if that becomes an impediment to passage, it wouldn’t hurt to add a provision allowing a majority of representatives and senators to sign a petition demanding a special session if the leaders refuse to convene the bodies.
We still believe the Legislature needs to consider whether S.C. governors have enough power to deal with emergencies. But this moment — with the pandemic still raging and a not-insignificant minority of legislators convinced that he has too much power, or at least upset at how he has exercised it — might not be the best time to expect clear-headed changes.
Instead, now is the time to pass H.3443, which would prevent the unlikely but possible, and untenable, situation where the Legislature is unable to meet and the court has stripped the governor of his powers to handle an emergency.
The Index-Journal on the status of the pandemic, one month into the new year:
Here we are, nearly a full month into 2021, the new year, the year many of us hoped would drastically change as one calendar was discarded for another.
Yes, there is great longing for a fresh start — more so this year than in most — as we have already hit the one-year anniversary of when COVID-19 came ashore, as we surpass 25 million documented cases in the U.S. and as we approach half a million U.S. deaths from the virus.
When will it all finally end? When can face masks be tossed out or recycled as rags?
We want it to end, and we actually have it within our power to help bring the pandemic to an end. But that’s the catch. We have it in our power, but it still requires action on our part.
Many of us have hung our hopes on the release of vaccines, but vaccines alone will not do. There is yet the need to remain vigilant about wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining distance from others in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. Getting the vaccine, especially even just the first of two doses, does not preclude the need to continue these best practices. A shot in the arm is not to COVID-19 what Kryptonite is to Superman.
Of course, there is wisdom in getting the vaccine when it does become available to you. We have not heard tale of anyone growing strange new limbs after getting the vaccine. No one has discovered a microchip secretly implanted (and it would have to be implanted, not injected).
As Nike would say, just do it. Do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it for your friends, do it for your neighbors, do it for your coworkers.
Do it so we can, eventually, return to our routines. Safely.