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James Cool
James Cool
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Five Fatalities Signal a Brutal End to an Unusually Safe Year for Alaskan Drivers

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The Alaska Department of Transportation recently revealed its year-end report regarding traffic accidents. The report notes that this year there were fewer traffic accident fatalities than in 2007. In fact, the report indicates that the 63 fatalities in 2008 was an “all-time low” for the state of Alaska. This number is down nearly 20 deaths from 82 fatalities in 2007. Surprisingly, the report notes that the Seward highway has seen a 77% reduction in the number of fatal accidents along its length. This is surprising because the Seward highway recently played home to several large accidents, including fatalities. This report comes on the heels of a tragic December which saw five highway fatalities within a matter of weeks across the state. The number of deaths around the Christmas holiday was described by the Alaska State Trooper’s office as “unprecedented.”

The additional good news is that 85% of drivers involved in accidents were buckled up at the time of the accident, a number which pleased DOT officials.

In order to continue this fortunate trend, it is crucial that Alaskans remain vigilant and careful in the new year. Alaskan roads can be extremely dangerous and driving slow, staying alert, and never drinking and driving are essential to continued road safety. For 21 tips on how to stay safe on Alaska’s roads please visit www.slowdownalaska.org/drivingtips.html. Some sample tips from the site include:

1. Slow Down: If the speed limit says "45 MPH" that’s the maximum you should drive – on dry pavement. In winter, smart drivers go slower than the posted speed limit. It’s really that simple… SLOW DOWN. Here’s perspective: Driving from North Pole to Fairbanks is about 12 miles. At 60 MPH, it takes 12 minutes. If you slow down just 5 miles per hour (and actually do the speed limit), it adds almost exactly one minute to your trip. Is an additional 60 seconds worth saving a life?

2. Stay Back: Alaska’s driving laws suggest that you stay back "one car length for every 10 miles per hour" of your speed. A car is about 15’ long. If you’re driving 40 MPH, you should be stay 60’ behind the car ahead of you … in the summer.

In the winter, stay back at least two car lengths for every 10 miles per hour of your speed. That’s 120’ back when you’re doing 40 MPH. The bottom line is that cars just don’t turn, or brake as well in the winter. They tend to slide instead. Smart drivers compensate by staying further back.

3. Practice Sliding in Deserted Parking Lots: Face it, a good bit of your Alaskan driving will be spent sliding on ice, out of control. You better get used to it – and learn how to survive it. Practice is key. Before driving on frozen Alaska roads, find an empty/icy parking lot – and practice losing control of your car. Slam on the brakes. Turn too quickly. Stomp the gas. Practice turning into a slide. Turning into a slide isn’t easy, and frankly it’s a bit scary at first. It is also absolutely necessary to regain control. Take your kid/spouse out, tonight.

Of course, be careful when you do this. Use an empty lot. Avoid other people/cars/structures. Wear a seat belt. Get permission from the lot owner. Don’t be stupid. Always consult a driving instructor before trying this.

4. Buy Good Tires: Blizzak tires get better traction than just about any other

6. Know the Weather: Check the weather before you leave home. If it’s expected to get colder, or worse – warmer – you must know this in advance. Extra precaution is required when the weather is changing. Get a thermometer for your car. You can find them for $10 at most auto stores. The difference between 31° and 33° is critical.

16. Don’t Talk On Your Cell Phone: Talking on a cell phone while driving reduces your reaction speeds to those of a 70 year old driver. Talking on a cell phone is like having a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit. It’s stupid. Don’t do it. Pull over, then chat.

17. Texting: Don’t even think about texting while driving. Do you really need to be told this one? Smack your kid on the head if you ever find him/her texting while driving.

21. Turn Into a Slide: When you start sliding – and you will slide on Alaskan roads – train yourself to turn into the direction of your slide. (e.g. If you start sliding to your right, turn your wheel to the right.) It seems wrong the first few times you do it, but it is the quickest way to regain control of your vehicle

Also be sure to be sure to watch out for dangerous intersections. Visit here for a listing of dangerous intersections in the Fairbanks area: http://www.slowdownalaska.org/avoidintersections.html

This information, as well as SlowdownAlaska.org are provided as a courtesy to fellow Alaskans by:

Merdes & Merdes, P.C.

Ward M. Merdes, Esq.
907-452-5400
www.merdes.com
merdes@merdes.com