My turn: Car accidents don't just happen

To avoid a wreck, all it takes is a little common sense when getting behind the wheel of a vehicle

Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2006

Most Juneau drivers can tell of a "near miss" or a highway traffic accident.

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When you take the wheel of your car, try to remember that accidents are caused; they don't "just happen."

Most of the wrecks are caused by operator error, according to the police reports.

Some of the contributing causes are 1) tailgating, 2) excessive speed for the conditions, 3) failure to anticipate ice conditions in patches, 4) failure to use the headlights, especially in failing light, 5) neglecting to use the turn signals in proper time before turning, 6) expecting those other "idiots" on the road to know that you are coming in your invincible power car, 7) driving when you may be impaired, to varying degrees, 8) driving with faulty equipment, 9) failing to clear ice and snow from all windows before you start and 10) tunnel vision.

To summarize this "cause and effect," see if you can profit from any or all items.

Tailgating does not save you any time in getting there. Think it over. Excessive speed does little to get you there quicker, here on our limited highways. It endangers you and others. Even on the short distances that we drive, conditions can vary a lot from town to the airport.

Driving from town out, remember that the glaciers have a "cold breath" causing ice to surprise you.

In limited daylight, you may be able to see what you think you need to see, but can you be seen by the old duffer who is just turning into the highway? He probably caused you to T-bone him. But if your lights were on, he could have seen you that second sooner and avoided placing you in grave danger. It is the law that you use your turn indicators. It is also good common sense to let the other driver know what your intentions are.

With all the traffic that we have and the variety of drivers, it's a good idea to expect the "unexpected." If kids are playing beside the road, use extra caution. Don't assume that other drivers are as skilled and alert as you are.

The state has set standards for driving under the influence. If you have "a few" after a stressful day at the office and are sure that you are under the limit, does that mean that "almost impaired" will keep you 100 percent safe behind the wheel? Think while you are cold sober, instead of trusting your reasoning and reflexes when you have a slight buzz.

Be sure to keep your vehicle in good repair. Brakes, tires, lights, wiper blades and by all means, clean off the ice and snow from all windows before you start.

As you travel along, don't think far away and just stare down the road. Sweep the roadway with your eyes. If there are pedestrians, kids or animals beside the road, be alert.

Finally, here is a message seen on a tombstone: "Here lies the bones of William Jay. He died maintaining his right of way. He was right, dead right as he sped along. But he is just as dead as if he were wrong."

• Kent Fagerstrom is a Juneau resident.

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