As many of you know, I spent ten days this summer in Alaska. I traveled around the SouthEastern part of the state, including Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, and even up into the Interior, to visit Denali National Park.
During one of the trips down the Kenai Peninsula, we (my hosts and I) got trapped for more than six hours on the Seward Highway by a wreck that included a fatality. For those who don’t know, the Seward Highway allows travelers to move between Anchorage down to Seward, on Resurrection Bay. If you look at the map, you’ll see that this is the only highway – the only ROAD – that connects those two towns, and all the towns in between.
Seward Highway is a death trap. During the week that I was there, two people died in two separate crashes on that highway. In the last three months, EIGHT deaths, and many more injuries have occurred.
Why do I mention this? There’s nothing I can do about it, honestly. I’m just a mom from Iowa. But perhaps we can learn a few things from those tragedies:
- All along the Seward Highway, which is mostly two-lane (one northbound, one southbound, no dividers between, often with rock wall on one side and guardrail over ditch-edge on the other), there are turn-offs, for scenic overlooks, rest areas, and simply pulling over. Signs are posted often along the highway, “If you have more than 5 vehicles behind you, pull over and let them pass.” (worded much shorter, of course, but that’s the drift.) But people rarely pull over to let others pass.
- In many sections of the highway, one direction is two lanes, while the other remains a single lane. Often, that single lane will have a dashed line, indicating a passing zone. Now, the oncoming traffic is instructed to STAY IN THE RIGHT LANE, leaving the left (center) open for passing. But how many drivers actually heed that warning? Many of the drivers on the Seward Highway are tourists, and we all know that most tourists are paying more attention to the mountainous scenery than to the rules of the road. And they’re driving motor-homes that they’re unfamiliar with, because they’ve just rented them that morning, so they’re concentrating on that, too. And don’t start me on the texting and cell phones. Point is, even though they’re supposed to remain in the RIGHT LANE, they don’t.
Add those two conditions together (we won’t throw in the weather, which I’m told is treacherous during the snow-months) – a long string of slow-moving traffic behind an inexperienced or distracted driver, and what happens? People start to pass. So now you have a line of north-bound traffic and a line of south-bound traffic entering one of those three-lane areas. Last guy in the north-bound lane pulls over to pass 10 cars, last guy in south-bound lane moves over to pass 10 cars, and they meet, head on, at car 5. And take out another two or three cars with them.
It’s sad. Horrifying, when you realize that these things could be avoided. How? Well, some of the burden rests with the state – first, turn those two-lane sections into universal passing lanes. That will (hopefully) keep people from cruising in the left lane, which they often do. Second, bite the financial bullet and post police officers at frequent intervals, bust those who are holding up traffic. Make it well-known that if a driver is leading more than 5 cars in a line and going under the speed limit, he will receive a citation for not moving over to allow others to pass.
But the real burden lies with the citizens. And this goes not just for Alaska, but for everywhere. The rules are there for a reason, people. Believe it or not, that 5-car holdup rule isn’t unique to Alaska. It applies in many states across this great land. But nobody knows about it. The right-lane rule also applies. How often have we simply sat in the left lane and set the Cruise, because those guys in the right lane are just too slow? Or we like it over there better, or whatever? The left lane is for PASSING, not for hanging out in. And when you’re passing? Don’t try passing ten cars at once. Go for one. Then the next. You enjoyed Leap Frog as a kid, embrace it now, as an adult. And if you’re being passed? Drop the ego and let the guy in. So he passed you. Get over it already. You’ll both get there. And seriously? The texting and the phone calls… Do I really need to discuss this one? Two words: VOICE. MAIL. You’re not THAT important, and frankly, neither is your boss. At least you’ll be alive for him to yell at you.
And finally, that famous controversy out of Alaska may have been over a “Bridge to Nowhere” (that was in Ketchikan, down in the inside passage – almost all the way south to Washington), but if they start looking for funding to fix or enhance the Seward Highway? Take up the cause. Write to your Congress Folks (not that they listen), and be willing to pay for that earmark. It’s a worthy one.
And the next time you’re in Alaska, take a ride down the Seward Highway. Just be sure to stay in your lane, and stay alert. Because the views are spectacular, and you’ll want to be able to tell the folks at home about it.