Another pedestrian has been hit and killed in the dark on an Alaska roadway, bringing to four the number of people to die in this manner in the last six weeks.
The latest fatality is 21-year-old Michaela Kitelinger of North Pole, a suburb of the Interior city of Fairbanks. She was hit on Davis Road in that community at 7 a.m. Sunday.
Of her death, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported this: “The driver (who hit her) saw someone wearing dark clothing in the center of the road. The police statement said the driver took evasive action but failed to avoid striking Kitelinger.”
From the News-Miner report, it would appear Kitelinger was not wearing anything reflective that would make her obvious to the driver of a motor vehicle on the usually dark roads of Alaska in winter.
There was less than four hours of daylight in Fairbanks on Sunday.
Given the vulnerability of people on foot traveling near roadways in the land of the long, cold dark, Alaska State Troopers once put an emphasis on getting them, especially children, into reflective wear in the name of the safety. They gave away reflectorized “safety bears” to kids and preached the dangers of dark clothing. The free bears went extinct 20 years ago this year.
“The troopers no longer give away those bright bears,” the long-gone Anchorage Daily News reported in October 1987, “but you can buy them at any First National Bank branch for $1.25. (That just covers the bank’s costs, a spokeswoman said.)”
The bank program now appears to have ended as well. The danger has not.
The first pedestrian to die in the dark this winter was a child – 10-year-old Kaliyah Douglas of Anchorage. She was hit by a sport utility vehicle on November 13. She was a fourth grader at Chinook Elementary School. She died at the intersection of Jewell Lake Road and 88th Avenue.
Crystal Girves, who lives near there, told KTVA-TV reporter Shannon Ballard that “something needs to be done to make 88th Avenue a safer place for children.
“‘This road on 88th belongs to them. It belongs to kids. We have two schools on this road and no speed bumps.'”
Alaska is a bad place for walking in the winter. The state has few sidewalks or walkways. People on foot are often forced to share the roadway with drivers who have a hard time seeing them if they aren’t lit up.
One thing that could be done immediately to make the roads safer for children and others who by choice or necessity travel on foot is to make them more visible.
The Anchorage Police Department has refused to say whether Douglas was wearing anything reflective. In a Nov. 28 email, APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro had only this response: “We are still waiting to for the investigation to conclude on this to provide more information about what happened.”
Castro did not respond to the suggestion that it might be a good time to bring up the idea of reflective wear for safety.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety heavily promotes a program called “Click It or Ticket” intended to get the drivers of motor vehicles to wear seat belts to avoid injuries in crashes.
“One way to avoid a road-side chat with law enforcement this holiday season is as simple as buckling up!” Alaska Native News reported only 10 days after Douglas’s death. “The Alaska State Troopers will be out conducting extra traffic enforcement efforts to ensure the safety of Alaskans while they celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday.”
There is no comparable, high-visibility public-education program to encourage pedestrians, the most vulnerable of road users, to wear reflective gear for safety. The website of the Alaska Injury Prevention Center does say it will provide free reflective tape to those who call or stop by its Anchorage office, but it is doubtful anyone reading this knows that or has even heard of the AIPC.
A month after Douglas died, 27-year-old Tia Smart was hit by a sport utility vehicle and died on Brayton Drive, an access road that runs parallel to the busy Seward Highway in south Anchorage. She grew up in the remote village of Hooper Bay in far Western Alaska before moving to Alaska’s largest city.
Castro did not respond to an email asking if Smart was wearing anything reflective.
Ten days after Smart’s death, 54-year-old Susan Voyles was struck and killed along the Glenn Highway near Glennallen in eastern Alaska. It was two days before Christmas.
Shortly before he death, she called Alaska State Troopers to report she’d lost a box from her vehicle and was going to go look for it along the roadway. The time was around 2 a.m.
At about 2:15 a.m., a trooper dispatch said, the agency “received a report from a motorist stating he struck a woman standing in the road….The driver identified himself as Andrey Ionashku, 24. Ionashku came upon a car stopped with its lights on in the opposite lane of travel. As he passed the vehicle, a person appeared in the roadway and he was unable to avoid striking her. The woman died.”
Troopers did not say whether Voyles was wearing anything reflective to make herself visible. They did report the accident is “under investigation” as are all the others.
Canada, which has a darkness problem similar to that of Alaska, in 2013 undertook a national examination of how to reduce the almost 900 pedestrians fatalities on its roads ever year.
“Many pedestrian fatalities and injuries occur at night or under low-light conditions,” the report concluded. “Dark clothing is often worn by pedestrians, especially in cold weather, and this, combined with more hours of darkness, greatly increases vulnerability in winter months. Visibility aids have the potential to increase visibility and enable drivers to detect pedestrians earlier. One of the more effective ways of reducing pedestrian collisions at night is the use of retroreflective clothing, patches of material or tags.”
There are, no doubt, those in Alaska who would argue that if a pedestrian gets run down and killed because they’ve made no effort to make themselves visible, it’s their fault and the government shouldn’t intervene to protect them. But the government already intervenes in the name of protecting people in motor vehicles in part to ease “the pain and suffering of…law enforcement and emergency personnel working the crash.”
If it is traumatic for professionals accustomed to injury and death to deal with the victims of motor vehicles accidents, think of what it must be like for an average citizen to deal with the thought they’ve run down and killed someone.
Wouldn’t it seem sensible to at least spread the word that reflective clothing saves lives?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has required retroreflective gear for workers in the heavy and highway construction industries for years.
Businesses in Alaska get it. Many of them, be they in the oil patch or at sea, require their employees to wear reflective vests in the winter. And Tote Maritime donated 150 reflective vests to the homeless after three of them were critically injured when hit by a cab outside Beans Cafe in the dark of Nov. 30.
The donation attracted only brief media attention.
So many seem to be in the deadly dark.
Too many cars in Anchorage drive too fast for conditions. I doubt there’s anything we can do about it. Are you banned from buying a pickup if you can’t show you have mental problems? That’s sure the way it looks to me.
I find it a little doubtful that people are not aware that wearing dark clothing while walking on a road in the dark is a bad idea. People walking think just like people who drive crazy………….they think that nothing bad can happen to them. The troopers gave away thousands of those safety bears in schools and I’d bet 95% of them were never worn and are in a drawer somewhere or long ago in the landfill. You can’t make people use whatever common sense they have or don’t have. People know some things are dangerous but don’t care. If there was a way to get government involved and ensure safe roads I’d be all for it but, as Medred shows here, it’s been done before and no one cared. Unless we assign a trained “safety companion” to every person on the planet, we are not going to be able to stop people from doing things that might hurt them. Putting ads on TV certainly won’t do it.
Even better than a reflector is a flashing red light. Carry one in your pocket and while walking near cars, mount or hold it to point towards approaching traffic. Sure they might cost $25, but what is your life worth? Reflectors require you to be in the beam of a headlight, but a light can be seen off-angle and for much larger distances. Drivers respond immediately by slowing down and giving you a wide berth.
Most every morning as I drive the Sterling Highway into Soldotna, I barely see a man pulling a wagon on the shoulder. He recently started wearing a reflective vest, but I fear he is not long for this world. It is very common – though I think illegal – to see vehicles using the shoulder as a full speed passing lane to get around someone making a left turn. If you stop behind the car making the left turn, someone will invariably blast path both/all cars that are stopped by using the shoulder. If you value your life, the shoulder of the highway is the wrong place to be in the dark, reflective gear or not.
One question: why would the woman call the troopers to tell them she was going to get her box? Seems rather odd.
Pete: I’d guess she might have called for safety reasons.
Great piece Craig, thanks for highlighting the issue,
Tom: I only wish everyone was as safety conscious as the oil industry on this issue.