Virtually anyone old enough to watch television or read a magazine probably knows it's stupid to drive while intoxicated, not to mention that it can land you in jail -- or worse.
And though operating a car while fatigued isn't a criminal act, it's not a particularly smart idea either. But did you know driving on an empty stomach also contributes to the likelihood of having an accident? So does driving while angry, for that matter.
All are physical impairments that can affect your PIEV -- an acronym for four actions that occur before a driver can hit the brake in a crisis -- perception, intellection, emotion and volition. That is, a hazard must be seen, understood, weighed and reacted to.
"The average time is about one and a half seconds," said Ken Markve, of Anchor Point, a retired transportation engineer who now sells insurance.
Markve spoke to Wednesday's Anchor Point Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience about driving safety. As a traveling salesman, he spends a good deal of time on Alaska's roads, and he offered some useful tips for making trips as safe as possible.
But Markve also noted the devastation on the nation's highways since such statistics have been kept. Approximately 3.1 million people died in traffic accidents from 1905 through 1999, more than three times the number of Americans who died in all American wars since the Revolution, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration, he said.
"This is a staggering figure," he said. "We lose 40,000-plus people each year in the United States. This, essentially, is the population of the Kenai Peninsula."
Markve said every person could do something to avoid becoming just another statistic -- be aware of your own ability to react.
"Age increases PIEV (Pie-Vee) time," he said. "Intoxication at any level increases PIEV time. Hunger increases PIEV time. We say that drinking and driving do not mix, but dieting and driving do not mix either."
In one autopsy study, at least 50 percent of the dead had empty stomachs, he said.
"We have reason to believe that a lot of people involved in fatal accidents went out and drove on an empty stomach," he said.
Young people typically have faster reaction times, but they may lack the judgment of maturity and may be more influenced by alcohol than older drivers. Older drivers may be less inclined to take chances, thus lowering their likelihood of accident.
"Anger increases PIEV time," he said.
He recommended pulling over when you feel "road rage."
Improper driving is a factor in 73 percent of fatal accidents, Markve said. But other things also contribute, things over which drivers have a good deal of control.
Markve suggested purchasing or renting a larger car or truck, one in excess of 2,500 pounds. In general, the heavier your vehicle the safer you're likely to be.
Inspect your vehicle every day, especially the tires, he said. Defective tires cause 5 percent of highway fatalities.
Drive in daylight.
"You're four times as likely to have a fatal accident traveling after dark as in the daytime," he said.
Avoid bad weather, and believe it or not, full-moon periods, too. There also seems to be a rash of accidents during daylight saving time, according to statistics.
Minimize left-hand turns, not only because you cross the oncoming lane, but also those window posts behind your left shoulder interfere with sightlines, he said.
Observe "Vince Lombardi Time," he said. The famous football coach insisted that his players be dressed for practice 15 minutes before practice was to begin or they were fined. Giving yourself just a little more time can be a lifesaver, Markve said.
Stow your gear. People are often injured or killed by articles flying about the cab during an accident.
Take particular care backing up. Check that your mirrors are set properly. Wear safe clothing. Polyester isn't a good idea when in a car or plane because it can burn and melt easily in a fire.
Markve said that, all in all, Alaska's highways are pretty good, including the Sterling Highway. He had one recommendation for state highway designers -- use "rumble pavement" where highways course through towns and villages. It could be similar to the strips etched into the edges of the Sterling Highway at some locations that alert drivers when they drift too close to the shoulder, but not necessarily as loud.
A little more "highway noise" in towns would make drivers more aware and cut down on accidents, he said. He also suggested that high school students preparing to earn their drivers' licenses be given highway accident autopsy reports to read. Highway deaths are much like battle deaths. The gruesome details can have a mighty sobering effect, he said.
Finally, Markve said he'd like to see a national memorial to the millions who have died on the nation's roadways.
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