With Interior roads clean and free of wintertime hazards such as freezing rain, ice fog or glare ice, it can be hard to believe there’s an elevated risk of accidents at this time of year.
But in Alaska and across the nation, the roughly 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the deadliest stretch of the year on the roads. The reason why has to do with issues we don’t always think of when we think of road hazards — and some that we do think of but to which we still need to devote more energy.
One of the primary reasons for the elevated accident risk at this time of year is simply there are far more vehicles on the road. With Interior summer weather sunny and warm, residents and visitors take to the roads to enjoy the day around town and further afield.
And the nice weather also means more pedestrians and cyclists out and about, meaning drivers need to devote attention not just to the increased number of cars around them but also those entering, exiting or crossing the roadway.
Another factor in summer crashes isn’t exclusive to the season but still merits serious consideration — distracted driving. The advent of smart phones, in-car video entertainment systems and other technology can often divide a driver’s focus. But giving in to the temptation to check texts, use apps or use a touch-screen device for any purpose while your car is moving is both dangerous and unlawful.
Studies have shown distracted driving can be every bit as dangerous, and in some cases even more so, than driving while intoxicated. Changes to Alaska’s distracted-driving law this year should mean it will be much more stringently enforced, dissuading drivers for whom staying safe isn’t motivation enough.
Summer is also the time when road construction dots Alaska’s roads. Even with proper signage, it’s easy to come across a road crew quickly when driving at road speed. With people and equipment in the roadway, both crews and drivers can be at risk, so slow down and take extra care when in a construction zone.
Making sure you drive safely is just part of the equation in reducing road dangers.
To bring down the number of crashes, it’s important to do what you can to mitigate dangerous behavior by others. Much of this is the skill set known as defensive driving: Give yourself more than enough room to stop if the car ahead of you suddenly brakes or gets into an accident.
Don’t test your luck on a stale green or yellow light — if you think it’s likely to change, slow down instead of accelerating. Even though it’s summer and the sun is up until midnight or later, keep your headlights on for visibility’s sake. And if you see another driver behaving erratically or in a dangerous manner, call 911 to report what’s going on. Police officers and Alaska State Troopers can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s a great help to have citizens looking out in the name of road safety.
Summer is here and conditions are excellent — let’s each do our part to make the roughly 100 days between now and Labor Day safer on Alaska roads.
—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, May 31, 2016