Officials caution those behind the wheel

Posted: Friday, December 09, 2005

In the last couple of days, slick roads have sent vehicles into a hazardous dance, landing them in ditches and creating collisions. And while maintaining control on icy roads is not easy, motorists are having to do all they can not to lose it, said Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Dan Donaldson.

“Once you lose control, there’s no recovering it,” Donaldson said.

“Vehicles in the ditch are just lucky they did not hit another vehicle.”

Donaldson said areas of patchy ice are everywhere, but the most serious accidents have been occurring on the Sterling Highway between Cooper Landing and Soldotna, where people are traveling at high speeds.

“If you have to drive, go way slower,” he said. “Impatience and speed create accidents.”

When the roads are icy, drivers also need to use extra caution when being approached by emergency vehicles.

Motorists driving on icy roads sometimes panic, jam on their breaks and lose control when the vehicles approach, said Barry Wheeler, a battalion chief for the Nikiski Fire Department.

“Use caution when slowing down,” he said. “We don’t want to cause more accidents.”

Icy roads also can lead to more false alarms as the number of vehicles in the ditch rises.

Wheeler asked that motorists not call to report a vehicle in the ditch without stopping to check if anyone is in the vehicle. False alarms cost taxpayers money and put more lives at risk when the fire department races over icy roads to find an empty car, he said.

Although heavily traveled roads have been sanded aggressively, city crews have not been able to spend as much time on side roads, according to Kenai Fire Department Chief Mike Tilly.

Tilly urges drivers to be extra cautious on side streets and at intersections. He said people often do not realize the road they are driving on is slippery until they try to change direction.

Despite wet, icy road conditions, however, Tilly said he expected there would be more problems.

“We haven’t had a big rash or spike in accidents like you would expect with these kind of conditions,” he said. “It doesn’t take long (before) people are being cautious.”

The most important advise Tilly said he could offer to drivers is to wear their seat belts. Since he began working in emergency services 20 years ago, he said he has seen a dramatic decrease in automobile-related injuries and attributes it to a rise in seat belt use.

It is especially important to use them when road conditions are bad, he said.

“If there was ever a time to wear them, it would be now.”

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