Lance Corporal Matt Southern: SC Highway Patrol

August 29, 2017 – As advertised in last week’s Keyway, Lance Corporal Matt Southern delivered an all-too-relevant presentation about highway dangers as we prepared for the Labor Day weekend.  At the time of his presentation Southern noted that South Carolina had experienced 633 deaths in 2017.  In 2016 deaths on the state’s roads and highways totaled 1,020 many of which could have been prevented, which is why the highway department has launched its Target Zero safety initiative.  The five primary causes of vehicle accidents are speeding, failure to yield right of way, leaving the roadway, distracted driving and driving under the influence.

On a positive note, the highway department’s message about the importance of wearing seatbelts has been received.  He noted that over the last two years, studies indicate that well over 90% of vehicle drivers are wearing seatbelts.  Nonetheless, distracted driving and driving under the influence continue to contribute to deaths on out state’s highways.  Southern noted that a person traveling at 55 miles per hour while sending an average text will traverse the length of a football field blind.

Perhaps the highlight of Southern’s presentation was his demonstration of standard field sobriety tests.  Enlisting the aid of our own Jim Geffert, Southern noted that the legal limit is 0.08 percent blood alcohol.  Rotarian Jim donned goggles which simulated a blood alcohol level of 0.17 to 0.20 percent.  Southern then proceeded to put Rotarian Jim through the tests a drunk driver would face if stopped by the highway patrol.  The first test, Southern explained was to ask the driver to follow with his eyes Southern’s finger as he moved it from side to side.  A person’s eyes naturally jerk a little as they move to follow an object and Southern noted that this jerk in movement is more pronounced in people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Next Southern directed Rotarian Jim to take nine steps, heal to toe, straight ahead, turn and return the place he started.  The difficulties of completing this task with the goggles was evident to us all as Rotarian Jim gamely went through the paces.  Finally, Southern asked Rotarian Jim to hold one foot up and count off five seconds.  Again each of us saw how alcohol simulated by the goggles would make this seemingly simple activity a true test.  There are also other tests which can be used according to Southern in situations where the driver is not able to walk such as counting on one’s fingers or reciting the alphabet.

The consequences of being caught driving under the influence are severe as Southern pointed out.  One is likely to be arrested and spend at least some time in jail.  One will incur expenses for bail, attorney’s fee and court costs and possible fines.  One will have to take time off from work and in some cases could be out of a job.  Hopefully the message about this which the highway patrol has been delivering for over 30 years will continue to be heard and understood by our state’s drivers.

To wrap up his message about driver safety and the highway patrol’s Target Zero effort, Southern mentioned motorcycles.  His message for motorcyclists is to “dress for the crash.”  Helmets, leather or other thick jackets and long pants are essential as are proper footware – not flip-flops!  Asphalt, Southern noted, is the world’s fastest tattoo remover!  Finally, Southern informed us that child seat safety regulations have also changed recently.  Children as old as eight years are now required to travel in a booster seat.  Southern invited us to visit BuckleupSC.com for the latest information on child seat requirements as well as child seat recalls.  No doubt each of us will harken back to Southern’s important message as we get behind the wheel in the coming holiday weekend.

Alex Dallis, Keyway Committee