While the incidence of Kenai traffic fatalities held at a steady two from 2009 to 2010, total motor vehicle crashes increased sharply, as did the number of hit-and-runs, injuries sustained, and accidents caused by those driving under the influence.
According to a report provided by the Kenai Police Department to the city council Wednesday night, total crashes increased by 16 percent, from 270 to 314, and injuries increased by 30 percent, from 30 to 39. Accidents involving drugs and alcohol doubled from 8 to 16, a 100 percent increase.
Chief Gus Sandahl noted in the report that 2009 was an exceptionally low year for crashes, and that the stats for 2010 "are not alarming as compared to 2006-2008 statistics." But as is the case with most data, isolating all of the contributing factors or pointing to a specific cause is extremely problematic, if not impossible.
"I have not a clue, and I hate to say that," said Sgt. Ben Langham of the across-the-board spikes. "If I knew what we did right in 2009 or what drivers did right, then obviously we'd push that. But I think there's so many factors that lead into different types of crashes that it's difficult to tell."
Moose are to blame for the majority of these accidents, as has been the case for the last seven years. Interestingly, the collisions are occurring in essentially one of two places: two four-mile-long, narrow, unlit stretches of the Kenai Spur Highway. Miles 4 to 8 on the Spur saw 71 crashes, while Miles 10 to 14 saw 58.
Langham speculated that the moose haunt these particular corridors in the winter due to the ease of travel and availability of food there, and that accidents happen because people can't see and therefore can't stop quickly enough to avoid the massive mammals.
"If we had more lighting alone, I think that would help drivers significantly," said Langham, "because then they have the ability to see the animals and slow down sooner."
He pointed out that while Kenai saw no moose-related traffic fatalities in 2010, someone did die in 2009, and that the severity of this problem should not be underestimated.
"I've been to accidents where the moose just walks off the road and all you see is a couple of hairs in the car and the car is fine," Langham said. "And I've seen completely totaled cars; I've seen a lot of people go to the hospital. It just varies."
Other causes of accidents in 2010, in descending order of frequency, were slippery pavement, failure to yield, driver inattention, alcohol/drugs, unsafe speed, and some other less common reasons.
October, November, and December witnessed the most crashes, a trend Langham attributes to the changing of the seasons and drivers switching modes from summer to winter driving.
"We see a spike as the snow starts to fly and people get used to driving on slick roadways again," Langham said. "There's an adjustment period."
The statistics show that the prime hours for accidents to occur are between noon and six p.m.; consequently, the KPD tries to increase the number of officers on patrol during these times. Efforts to further curb the incidence of crashes and injuries on Kenai roads include the installation of new technology in the police cruisers, the placement of message and speed trailers along high-traffic roadways, and the implementation of programs such as "Click-it-or-Ticket" -- a pro-seatbelt campaign -- and the acquisition of grants like "All Eyes on DUIs, which provides equipment and training to help get impaired drivers off the roads.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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