HEAT is on for the 100 deadly days of summer

Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the deadliest time of the year on South Carolina roads. Between now and Labor Day, state troopers say they'll be turning up the "heat" on traffic violators over the next 100 days of summer.

HEAT stands for Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic, the Highway Patrol's campaign for safety on the road, including greater use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

At a kickoff event for the 100 Days of Summer HEAT campaign in Myrtle Beach Thursday, HP Capt. Gil Owens recounted his own brush with death in a motorcycle accident.

Owens said he was working the Memorial Day Bikefest in 1998, when a car did an illegal U-turn in front of his motorcycle, causing a crash that left him with serious injuries. When Owens talks about helmets saving lives, he includes his own.

"I had a major concussion, two fractured shoulders and torn ligaments in my sternum and was out of work for about 4 to 5 months," Owens said.

Highway Patrol statistics show more than 70 percent of motorcyclists who die in crashes in the state aren't wearing helmets.

It's why the Department of Public Safety is stressing helmet use over the 100 days of summer, though for people over the age of 21, state law still allows it to be the rider's choice.

"We advise you to wear one, we encourage you to wear one, we can't make you wear one," Owens said.

He said a big problem for motorcycles is that they're smaller vehicles, making them harder for other drivers to see.

"A lot of time if a motorcycle is behind you, they're in your blind spots, you can't see them. When you come up to an intersection, we just ask you to look twice, two or three times actually, to make sure there's no motorcycle coming."

Highway Patrol will also urge people to buckle up this summer, since the numbers show about 64 percent of those who die in crashes aren't wearing seat belts.

Though seat belt use is required by law, troopers say pulling violators over will not be their first priority.

"This is not a ticket writing initiative, this is a life saving initiative, so we can save lives," said SC Dept. of Public Safety director Leroy Smith.

DPS numbers show motorcycle and pedestrian deaths so far in 2012 are running ahead of last year. Highway Patrol is also pushing pedestrian safety, handing out thousands of reflective wrist bands for pedestrians to wear.

The Dept. of Public Safety will use its variable message boards around the state this summer, to push motorcycle and safety belt messages.