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The first snow is just around the corner, and so is one of the most dangerous times of the year for vehicle accidents.
As in past years, traffic accidents will increase dramatically with the first snow. The most common accidents seen in Alaska are cars not being able to stop at intersections or running wide while making a turn.
The majority of accidents occurring at intersections are the result of driving too fast for the conditions.
Regardless of how long you have been in Alaska or how much experience you may have driving in snow, there is a mental adjustment period the first few weeks of driving in snow. It requires time and a conscious effort to adjust to the lack of traction and the new driving style required to cope with snow and ice.
Driving in snow and ice requires an increase of three times the braking and following distances required for dry pavement. Braking should be gentle and begin well in advance of your stop or turn.
Increased following distance is essential in avoiding collisions with other drivers. Driving on snow and ice also requires more gentle and deliberate inputs to the steering wheel and accelerator. Excessive input to the accelerator, brakes or steering wheel can result in loss of control.
Since a lot of driving is done in the dark during the Alaska winter, there other hazards to consider. Because of the increased stopping distances required by the slippery roads, it is easy to ďoverdriveĒ your headlights. In other words, by the time a hazard appears in your headlights, you may be too close to stop or avoid the hazard.
To help avoid this situation, reduce your speed to allow for longer stopping distances, and clean your lights and windshield periodically. Headlights and taillights quickly become dirty in the winter and may not be as noticeable as a dirty windshield.
Secondly, moose are everywhere in Alaska and can pop up on any road. A moose at night is especially hazardous. A moose can be out of the woods and in the road in front of you with amazing speed, and if you are overdriving your lights or arenít alert, you may not be able to avoid hitting it.
Secondary roads with narrow cleared areas on the side of the road are especially hazardous because of the reduced reaction time when the moose runs out of the woods. Also, due to their coloring, moose are extremely hard to see at night, which further reduces your reaction time.
Thinking ahead is a critical part of winter driving safety. Anticipating that stop, lane change or the actions of other drivers can make all the difference.
Allow enough time to be sure all your windows and mirrors are free of frost and snow before you start driving.
Donít wait until the snow flies to think about getting your car ready for winter and donít wait until it is 30 below zero to put your survival gear in your car. Winters in Alaska are harsh and unforgiving. Give yourself the edge by thinking ahead.