Eight Is Too Much

seward wreckAs 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.

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10 Responses to Eight Is Too Much

  1. mssc54 says:

    I don’t imagine that I will be very popular with my comment but that’s what makes it my comment.

    First of all the problem with the highway in Alaska rests not with the asphault but rather the drivers. If it were the asphault then everyone would be killed everyday. I imagine that there are many roads in this country that need improving. Sure, some more than others but that doesn’t mean that I want my tax dollars “ear marked” to fix a road in Alaska when there are roads and bridges right here in my home town that need repairing. Let the citizens of Alaska fix their own roads. If they can’t seem to muster the forces to fix something that affects them directly then so be it.

    Since that road seems to be so dangerous perhaps ALL drivers should keep an eye on their mirrors for suicide passers and adjust their driving accordingly. Additionally just because the tourist who rented a bus is holding up the traffic so much doesn’t mean that ANY DRIVER can pull over and let ALL THE TRAFFIC get by them. That would put them out of harms way too. But no, it’s too easy to blame it on everyone else. If my family is in danger I think I would rather pull over and let all the traffic by instead of saying “Hey, it’s not ME holding up the line, it’s that jackass up in front.” Pull your family over and let all the traffic by and then when it’s clear pull back out. Seems simple enough to me.

    As for the talking and texting on the phone. You don’t get to decide which of my personal freedoms you don’t like and take them away. Granted not all people need to be talking/texting on their phones but just because SOME people screw up… and yes I know the most recent studies show that texting can be more dangerous than drinking and driving. How about eating a burger and fries while your driving? Or manually changing your music selection in the CD player? Or putting on your friggn make-up?!

    I think the bottom line is that we EACH need to take personal responsibility for our safety and actions; especially when it puts others at risk.

    And yes, I am just that important that I need to talk and text on my cell phone. As a matter of fact, the more I do it the better I get at it. 🙂

    • Joy says:

      I’m not sure where you’re coming from with this comment. I’ve read and reread it several times and didn’t read it the same way you did. Where does the”asphalt” remark come from? I think Laura’s point was the drivers need to be more careful and I can’t find one asphalt related remark in this post (and I’ve been reading it for 20 minutes trying to see what you’re talking about) and I feel you are both talking about safety issues but you sound so angry. Whether you’re texting, eating a burger or putting your make up on, KNOCK IT OFF and drive carefully.

  2. Laura, I cannot agree more. Seriously. Driving here in Israel is an extremely nerve wracking endeavor, so I’m familiar with bad roads and bad drivers and needing to fear for your life because of the people around you acting aggressively on the road. I think your words are just the complete truth!

  3. SKL says:

    Having traveled roads in various less-developed countries, I have to say that the roads in Alaska didn’t faze me at all. But, it really sucks that you had to wait 6 hours for the traffic jam to clear. I can see why they have to pay people to live in Alaska – between the mobility issues, the climate, the darkness for half of the year, etc. It is a lovely place to visit though, and I don’t recall having any difficulties when I went there.

    When you’re dealing with narrow mountain roads, I don’t see how the cops could catch up with the idiots without themselves causing traffic problems. I also think the drivers know this, and this motivates their behavior somewhat. Maybe what they need are some well-placed traffic-cams. But in general, you basically travel at your own risk on remote roads, no matter what country they are in.

    I have to agree with you about texting. It would be great if people would police themselves, but too many don’t, and that affects other people’s safety. My girls and I were walking in a parking lot in a community park about a month ago, and there was a woman driving, texting, and “occasionally” looking up. If people behave this way in a place where they KNOW children will be running around, there has to be some way to penalize them to protect our kids.

  4. Joy says:

    I honestly feel some people think driving is a game of always having to be “first.” How many times have you been waiting at a red light and it turns green and the guy next you you just has to be first so he peels out and is first only to be driving like a snail a mile ahead?

    I also can’t stand when people drive in the left lane. It was devised for PASSING, once past, get back in the right lane. The traffic would be so much smoother if people would just pass and then move over. Of course the people who drive in the left lane don’t think this means them. I’ve also been riding with people who drive in the left lane, set the cruise and say to hell with anyone else, I’m going “so and so fast” they don’t need to go any faster! Let them drive the way they want. It’s not up to you. You’re not the police and if someone wants to drive 80 mph, let them. It’s not up to you!! If you’re reading this, yes, I mean you!!!

    I feel people shouldn’t even talk on a phone while driving so texting???? Absolutely not. Nobody is that important that they can hurt someone I love for an almighty text. I don’t care how good you are at it. Driving is to important to be playing stupid games while your attention should be on the road and what’s going on around you.

    I feel this boils down to common courtesy. Live by the golden rule, do unto others.

  5. nikki says:

    I agree with every word you said,or rather typed Laura. And I just first have to say I am glad you and your son made it back safely. 🙂
    I’d like to address the texting and talking on the phone first. This IS a freedom slowly being taken a way from people while driving. And I’m GLAD. If you are driving you should be DRIVING not texting! The worst thing I hate is seeing someone make a dumb move on the road because they’re too busy chatting away. Is that conversation really that important.
    Passing…come on, like Laura said move over and let them pass, what’s the harm in it. If they want to get there faster, let them! It’s usually those people you will see on the side of the road after being in an accident or went off the road. People need to slow down plain and simple, be aware of your surroundings and be courteous of the ones in front of you and behind you.

  6. Sue says:

    It does boil down to personal resposibility whether it’s deciding to pass 10 cars, texting while driving, eating, putting on make up, ect. I’m very glad it’s illegal to text while driving in MN! It does sound like Alaska needs to do some work on their road though to make it safer. The people who live there have to pay taxes for their infrastructure so the least they could do is make some improvements.

  7. mssc54 says:

    @ LAURA:

    Laura, I want to publically and sincerely apologise for the tone of my earlier comment. I will not offer any excuses or reasons… except to say that I read/wrote that around 4 a.m. with little sleep.

    The thing that stings me the most about this is just how easily it was for me to instantly show how uncaring and insensative I can be.

    I can imagine that car safety and automobile accidents (for you) is much like a coward on the battlefield is to me. There are some things that we each can become sensatized to in life and I should have had the presence of mind to recognise that.

    Please forgive me. You really did make some very good points.

    Mssc54

  8. Tony says:

    We have a highway here in Tasmania that connects the north to the south & that has had so many bad accidents lately. It is only a single lane in each direction with overtaking lanes on steep hills. There have been so many calls for a major upgrade to a 2 lane highway for years but the government seem reluctant to spend the money & people continue to die. Multi million dollar sports facility upgrades seem more important. Government stupidity really annoys me

  9. LVISS says:

    HERE MOST OF THE ROADS DONT HAVE MEDIANS. COME HERE AND SEE HOW WE DRIVE ON THE ROAD . AND MOST OF US ARE COMFORTABLE WITH IT. WE ARE USED TO THIS HECTIC DRIVING.IN SPITE OF THIS ACCIDENTS ARE QUITE RARE.
    .COMPARTTIVELY IN US TRAFFIC REGULATION IS MUCH BETTER. IN FACT I WAS “SHOCKED” TO SEE PEOPLE ADHERING TO TRAFFIC SIGNALS WITHOUT A POLICE IN ATTENDANCE.

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