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COLUMBIA – His friends and family called him "Peanut."

Two years ago, Kenneth Long Jr. was killed on a rural road in Williamsburg County while working as a flag operator in a highway work zone.

His mother later told lawmakers that the driver who hit him had 1,500 feet to slow down but drove off the road and struck her son. He was cited for improper braking and driving too fast and fined $300.

Long was one of 11 people killed in work zones in 2012, the same number killed in 2005 even though the number of accidents has dropped by 17 percent, according to accident data reviewed by The Greenville News.

Over the past decade, according to the data, more than 4,000 people have been injured in the state and 91 killed in work-zone accidents. So far this year, 283 people have been hurt and four killed in 628 work-zone accidents, according to preliminary data from the state Office of Highway Safety.

The numbers show that South Carolina has averaged almost three work zone accidents per day over the past decade, according to the data.

Work-zone accidents are under legislative scrutiny now because of a push to increase road funding. Some lawmakers want to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in additional money for road and bridge repairs, funding that could also significantly increase the number of work zones operating in the state for years to come.

"It says to me that obviously the traveling public is not really complying with the warning signs and the things and the systems that are out there that are in place for their protection," said Bill Stricker, a vice president of Carolinas Associated General Contractors, a group that provides safety training to those who work on roads.

Tom Crosby, a spokesman for AAA Carolinas, a highway safety group, said he thinks many drivers are impatient with work zones, one reason speeding is such a big factor in crashes.

"Speeding is involved in one-third of all fatal accidents anyway," he said. "It's the single most causative factor in an accident. Everybody does it and everybody thinks they're safe when they're doing it and they're correct until they make a mistake and then the consequences are much, much higher."

Crosby said because of the stop-and-go nature of work zones, many of the accidents involve multiple cars.

Stricker said he believes many crashes in work zones are rear-end collisions. He said supervisors in work zones have the authority to modify safety conditions when they feel safety conditions can be improved. That may involve increasing or repositioning signs or flashing lights or even pulling workers from an area if it is deemed unsafe.

According to the state Office of Highway Safety, speeding is the leading contributing factor of work-zone accidents in the state, followed by failing to yield, following too closely, distracted driving, improper lane usage and DUI.

For work-zone fatalities, speeding is the top contributing factor, according to the Office of Highway Safety, followed by DUI.

Pete Poore, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the agency has averaged between 280 and 300 construction projects a year over the past decade in South Carolina.

He said that number doesn't include temporary work zones for activities such as mowing and other maintenance work.

The accident data isn't broken down by individual work sites.

State law requires drivers to adhere to posted speed limits in work zones, which must carry signs designating the start and end of such zones and informing motorists that speeding can result in fines of up to $200 or imprisonment for up to 30 days.

Some senators attempted to address work zone accidents this year through a bill dubbed "Peanut's Law" after the 22-year-old flag operator who died in 2012.

The bill would have created the offense of endangerment of a highway worker, and provided steeper penalties, beginning at $500 for those convicted of speeding in a work zone in which no worker was injured.

Those convicted of an accident in which a worker suffered great bodily injury could be fined from $2,000 to $5,000 and face imprisonment of up to three years.

The death of a highway worker as the result of an accident would result in charges of reckless vehicular homicide.

Half of the fine revenue collected under the bill would pay for troopers to be posted to work zone sites.

The state in 2006 used grant money to create a Safety Improvement Team, a group of 24 troopers that would be assigned to work zone areas to patrol and enforce traffic laws there. But the troopers are assigned to major work zones because there aren't enough to cover every work zone in the state, officials said.

But the bill failed to progress in the Senate after some senators disagreed about the definition of what constitutes a work zone, said Sen. Larry Grooms, the bill's chief sponsor and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

"It shouldn't be that difficult," he said. "There are even federal guidelines."

He said questions like whether flashing lights are required and at what point after the first sign should motorists be liable for violations became the focus of debate.

"They made it very complicated," he said. "When you are in a work zone, you know it."

Grooms said the enhanced penalties are needed because DOT workers and contractor employees have lost their lives, not to mention motorists.

"There should be a duty for every driver to slow down and be more cautious when there are workers present and that is the whole purpose of the law," he said.

Grooms said he would refile the bill and believes that since next year will mark the start of a two-year legislative cycle, the chances are good for passage.

Sen. Larry Martin of Pickens, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he thinks with the Legislature's vote two years ago to increase road funding and continuing efforts to pass another infrastructure funding bill, lawmakers need to do what they can to improve the safety of work zones.

"As more money becomes available for roadwork, that is something we need to be concerned about," he said.

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