My column about the increased danger on Wyoming roads this year generated some interesting responses from people around the state.
In that column it was pointed out that fatalities on Wyoming highway by Aug. 1 titled 92 compared to just 57 a year ago (in the intervening 10 days that number has climbed to 98). Why has it spiked so much? My column (published on Cowboy State Daily) laid out some examples and possible reasons. Here is a collection of comments from some other folks around the state:
Vince Tomassi, Kemmerer-Diamondville:
“If the speed limit is 70, I get passed regularly by people going I would estimate 80-plus.Same for the 80 MPH sections (of Interstate 80), people are going 90. I agree with your friend about distracted drivers with cell phones, texting and driving.”
Jean Haugen, Lander:
“I have never seen the fatalities so bad, even back when my dad was a Patrolman. A lot of the time, fatalities around here are either lack of wearing a seatbelt or falling asleep at the wheel and crashing. Wyoming used to have the reputation of having the best highways in the U.S. It is very concerning. It was certainly sad about those two ladies being killed that were from Riverton.”
Susan Gore, Cheyenne:
“Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak cites striking Colorado statistics, re: THC marijuana increasing traffic fatalities. THC alters time-distance perception even after the high is gone. That is a difference from alcohol. His tragic Wyoming example is a high school senior with great life prospects going home after a graduation party. Brian was there.”
Tucker Fagan, Cheyenne:
“I agree with Steve Peck’s editorial about information screens in cars (that was reprinted in the column). The Air Force uses displays on the wind screen to keep the pilot’s eyes outside the cockpit. Saw this several years ago on vehicles I rented but the technology has not achieved widespread use. Also since Alexa, etc. can do so many things, voice activation should be incorporated in vehicles.”
Geoff O’Gara, Lander:
“A couple of thoughts about the rising death tolls on the roads. I think we all agree that drivers are often distracted by social media devices, even when they are specifically to aid drivers, like route mapping. Quite a few years ago I was driving back from work at PBS in Riverton and a driver swerved out of the busy opposite lane and right across my path – she went off the opposite shoulder, lucky for me she didn’t try to recover or it would have been a head-on. From the way her head bobbed up, I’m quite sure she was looking down at a screen, or else asleep.”
Here are two other elements to consider, and I’m guessing there are studies out there that I’m too lazy to look for:
1. “The ridiculously big and growing vehicles that so many people drive these days, in our comfort-seeking over-indulgence – for tourists, sometimes rental RVs much bigger than what you normally drive at home. As a bicyclist, watching them weave around, I’m terrified.
2. “The aging American population, and the enormous number of retired oldsters with the wealth to wander around the highways. The driver in the Grand Teton crash was 65. The victims were even older. I’m in my 60s now and my reflexes aren’t all they used to be. Cognitively, older folks process more slowly, and may focus less intently. “It’s dangerous out there! Take the train! (Bring passenger trains back to Wyoming!)”
John Davis, Worland:
“I think the usual reason for variation in highway deaths is simple statistical variation. That is, when you have a large number of random events, there will always be a substantial variation of incidents, simply from the nature of the randomness of chances. Sometimes you can trace the fact, of, say, extra highway deaths, to specific causes, but not usually.”
Phil White, Laramie:
“It is good you are calling attention to the carnage on the highways. I’m hearing more and more often from various people, especially about the Front Range madness, that the roads are simply no longer capable of handling the traffic. They cannot be upgraded fast enough to maintain even a minimal level of safety for a population growing so fast.
“I’m sure you are right about the distractions inside cars. More important than motorhomes, I would think, is the explosion in the past 15 years of semis on Interstate 80. Every time I do a casual count I find that semis account for about half of the vehicles on Interstate 80 and there have been a lot of wrecks involving semis. One of them coming out of Telephone Canyon and onto the flats south of Laramie several years ago plowed into a vehicle stopped in a line of cars because of a previous accident between grand avenue exit and 3rd street exit. Four members of one family were all wiped out in that one. Even big heavy SUVs and pickups are no match for semis. At 80 mph they have no chance to avoid collisions and their mass magnifies the damages.
“As to alcohol, I’ve been trying for years to get (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) and other parties to push the Legislature to prohibit drive-up liquor store windows. I believe I read that Wyoming is the only state that still allows drive-up windows. It’s an easy way for liquor dealers to avoid the responsibility to not sell alcohol to someone who, if made to walk inside, would display obvious impairment. (Of course the Legislature and the Supreme Court also have refused for years to create “dramshop law” liability for liquor dealers who sell to obviously impaired adults. As the law now stands, a liquor store owner cannot be held responsible for a drunk driver killing another motorist, even if the liquor dealer sells liquor to and then helps the buyer get into his car because he can barely even walk).
“As to speed, I am always amazed when the Legislature raises the speed limit. Even before the recent increases it was already well established that at night going 70 mph it is almost impossible for a vehicle to stop in time after an object becomes visible in the headlights. When they raise the limit they are simply saying ‘We are willing to sacrifice a few hundred lives or a thousand lives over time to save everybody else a few minutes in getting to their destination.’
“I often think of John Muir’s observation after touring Yellowstone in the late 1800s from his Our National Parks (1917): ‘The regular trips–from three to five days–are too short. Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day. The multitude of mixed, novel impressions rapidly piled on one another make only a dreamy, bewildering, swirling blur, most of which is unremembered.’”
Larry Wolfe, Cheyenne:
“I just rode my bike on 365 miles of the State’s road (a bit of that in MT). Those of us on bikes are scared to death of distracted drivers there were many stories of close calls. Good for you for bringing attention to this.”