Summer. Many Alaskans live for it. It’s three months out of the year when the days are warmer, the skies are bluer and the daylight never ends. Fishing, camping, kayaking, hiking, swatting mosquitoes — you name it — we cram as much as we can into those three months. Locals and tourists flood our highways all hours of the day soaking in all that Alaska has to offer — opening more opportunity for vehicle collisions. Hence, the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer.
The 100 Deadliest Days of Summer is a phrase coined by AAA to define the timeframe between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when an increased number of drivers — teenage and experienced — hit the road. It’s a time when we see the sobering statistics of highway fatalities increasing as distractions and drinking come into play.
But the bottom line? It’s the time when your decisions behind the wheel can have devastating effects for yourself, your loved ones and other drivers. The opportunity to turn the stats around and do away with this phrase lies entirely in the hands of Alaskans statewide, if they would choose to use more caution, take things more slowly and focus on driving and arriving alive.
According to the Alaska Department of Transportation, 65 loved ones never made it home in 2015, due to vehicle deaths. And in 40 percent of those cases, seatbelts weren’t used. These drivers and passengers made a choice, and that choice ended in death. It’s simple: seatbelts save lives. Ask any first responder to the scene of an accident, and they will resolutely tell you that a seatbelt worn saved a life, or one ignored resulted in death.
The 100 Deadliest Days is also a time when teen drivers and their parents need to take extra precautions. Teens crash four times more often than adult drivers, with car crashes being the leading cause of death for people ages 16-20. A young driver’s likelihood of dying in a crash increases with the number of passengers under 21 in the car. Parents need to set boundaries for teen drivers, mandating no cellphone use when operating a vehicle, requiring the teen drive alone or with no more than one passenger, and — most importantly — simply spending lots of time with the teen driver to give him or her ample practice in a wide range of situations.
This summer, we encourage Alaskans to pledge to help reduce vehicle deaths on our roadways. The Last Frontier is too beautiful to have its roads littered with the debris of entirely preventable accidents.
• Denice Harris is the Director of Brand and Membership at AAA MountainWest, which covers close to 200,000 members in Alaska, Montana and Wyoming with travel, insurance, financial and auto-related services.