Alaska traffic safety professionals meet to brainstorm solutions as accident fatalities rise

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Traffic safety professionals from all over Alaska are meeting in Anchorage to brainstorm ways to reduce traffic fatalities statewide.

This is the first time in more than ten years that the Alaska Traffic Safety Summit is happening and for good reason: traffic fatalities have steadily been on the rise recently.

Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows alcohol and speed-related fatalities both had their highest number of fatalities in ten years in Alaska in 2018.

"One of the ideas is Anchorage now has an impaired driving enforcement unit and that's all they focus on is impaired driving," said Alaska Highway Safety Administrator, Tammy Kramer. "It's hard, especially up here, when it's dark to actually see if you have your seat belt on, so we're hoping to get some new ideas on how to do some night patrol."

Also according to the NHTSA data, in 2018, 80 people died on Alaska's roadways, and these safety professionals say that number is 80 too many. A number of DOT projects are in the works to improve safety, but Alaska DOT&PF Commissioner John MacKinnon says a number of issues can prolong a project's completion.

"I want to say the single most important thing that we can do as a department to improve highway safety is to get these projects designed, under construction and completed so the public has a benefit as quickly as possible. Ten to fifteen years to develop a project - there's no excuse for that other than the process that we put in place and we can change those processes," said MacKinnon.

Over the two day summit, speakers from across Alaska and out of state will speak on various safety topics. They'll discuss ways to record and tackle distracted driving, ways to educate young drivers, tackling pedestrian and bicycle safety, and of course, ways to overcome particular challenges we face here in Alaska.

"We're such a remote state. We've got a lot of unique challenges and it's not necessarily always just vehicles," said Alaska DOT&PF Division Director Ben White. "We're dealing with a lot of animal vehicle interactions. We're dealing with remote communities where we're trying to get education on safety belt use and helmets."

On a positive note, another thing that has steadily increased is observed seat belt usage across the state which was recorded at 91.6% in 2018.

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