Slow down and save lives

Saturday, December 10, 2011 - 15:46
CCC president shares a few safe driving tips
A vehicle sits on its side after skidding off the Knik River Access road recently. Icy conditions mean drivers should use extreme caution to avoid a similar fate, says Chugiak Community Council president Dave Baldwin, who investigates traffic accidents for a living.

At a busy Anchorage intersection, vehicles roll to a stop as their traffic light turns red. But one, a pickup truck, decides to push his luck, speeding through the amber light. Midway through the intersection, it looks like it’s going to make it. Suddenly, another vehicle — the driver seems to have timed the green light perfectly — enters the intersection at a high rate of speed.


What was a normal winter afternoon turns into a very bad day for the occupants of five or six vehicles, as the collision sends automobiles flying and skidding in all directions.

The scene, captured by an overhead traffic camera, is the kind of thing Chugiak’s Dave Baldwin sees every day. Baldwin, who serves as president of the Chugiak Community Council, works in the Municipality of Anchorage’s Risk Management department, investigating traffic accidents and insurance claims for the muni.

“I have a pretty good background dealing with risk,” he said.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, Baldwin shared some of what he’s learned about diving safety with the council during a presentation filled with dramatic and often cringe-inducing videos of vehicle accidents — most of which, he said, could have been prevented not by better reactions, but by better foresight on the part of drivers.

“What you do pre-event is usually more important than what you do at the point of no return,” he said.

Most people’s reaction time is about three-quarters of a second. That means that if you’re in a vehicle traveling 60 MPH, you’ll travel three car lengths before you’ve even got time to start moving your foot to the brake. This fact led Baldwin to point out the most important thing people can do to cut their risk of being in an accident.

“It comes down mostly to tailgating,” he said.

Instead of trying to save time on your commute, Baldwin advised drivers to instead observe the “two-second rule,” which states that drivers should leave — at minimum — two seconds between themselves and the car in front.

Morning commuters who ride the bumper of the car in front of them, he said, are basically asking for trouble. And, he pointed out, they’re not getting to work any faster than the guy who calmly moves into the slow lane to let every speeding driver past.

“You’re not going any slower, you’re just another second back,” he said.

But what if you’re late for work?

Baldwin said math is against speeders. In order to cut even a minute off the time it takes to commute between Anchorage and the Mat-Su, he said, a driver would have to pass between 30 and 60 vehicles. And, he said, the same is true about letting vehicles go past. If you let those same 30-60 vehicles get in front of you in order to maintain safe following distances, you’re only going to lose about a minute.

The bottom line, he said, is speeding through traffic in order to try to save time is a fool’s gamble.

“Is it worth the risk?” he asked, shortly after showing several pictures of vehicles ripped in two. “Absolutely not.”

Baldwin said a recent insurance industry study showed that Anchorage ranks 124th out of 200 cities for traffic accidents. That means a typical Anchorage driver has a 15 percent higher risk of being in a collision.

Other ways to minimize your risk of an accident, he said, boil down to planning for the worst and providing yourself a contingency plan.

“Always have an out,” he said.

In the earlier accident with the red-light runner, Baldwin pointed out that the collision could have been avoided had the person with the green light — who was not at fault — hadn’t decided to try to save time by timing the light perfectly and not slowing down.

“You can always speed up,” he said. “Slowing down is the problem.”

This is more important now that winter driving is upon us, he said. During the winter, drivers should increase their following distances and be hyper-aware of what’s going on around them. That especially means no cell phones or texting, which Baldwin said are some of the biggest hazards facing drivers today.

“Can we be lackadaisical about driving?” he asked. “No.”

Also, good winter tires — not “all-season” tires — are a must this time of year.

“Buy the best tires you can,” he said.

Baldwin reminded those in attendance that getting into an automobile is something drivers should treat with the utmost care and respect.

“What’s the most dangerous thing you can do every day?” he said. “It’s driving.”

Baldwin hopes that people begin to take driving more seriously, which means paying more attention to their surroundings, following further behind other drivers and always anticipating and planning for the worst-case scenario before it happens.

“You’ve gotta look where you’re going,” he said.


Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]

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