Real Alaska killer


Alaska is tracking the upward, national climb in roadway deaths of non-motorists

UPDATE: Despite what a state website might say, a spokeswoman for the Division of Public Health says it no longer hands out safety reflectors for children.


For those on foot or bicycle, danger lurks in the darkness, and there are no states darker than Alaska from now until March.

Alaskans worry a lot about dying in bear attacks or avalanches, but on an annual basis cars and trucks kill more non-motorists than bears and snow combined. 

Since Sept. 15, two pedestrians have been hit and killed by motor vehicles on the streets of Alaska’s largest city. They were part of a trend. Pedestrian deaths in Alaska have been tracking the steady national increase.

Last year’s annual report from the Governors Highway Safety Association reported pedestrian fatalities up 33.3 percent from the year before in the 49th state.

Blame the darkness, the slick roads, too many people looking at their cell phones, too many people driving too fast and, yes in part, some pedestrians and cyclists who just don’t pay attention to the danger.

“In recent years, the number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States has grown substantially faster than all other traffic deaths,” the Governors report noted. “The number of pedestrian fatalities increased 27 percent from 2007 to 2016, while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent. Pedestrian deaths as a proportion of total motor vehicle crash deaths increased steadily, from 11 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2016. Pedestrians now account for a larger proportion of traffic fatalities than they have in the past 33 years.”

And then there was this:

“Darkness poses an especially high-risk for those traveling by foot. On a national basis, about half of the pedestrian fatalities in 2016 occurred between 6:00 p.m. and midnight, with 75 percent occurring after dark.”

Worried drivers

Over the weekend, the social-media website Nextdoor for South Anchorage lit up with people worrying about hitting someone on the many poorly lit roads of the city.

“I was just complaining about this the other day,” one woman wrote. “Came up on a whole family in the dark. Saw them when they were right there in front. Not sure I would have had time to swerve if I was closer to the side of the road. Some places just give out reflective strips and patches or whatever, but I can’t recall, other than maybe schools.”

Another woman reported nearly running down a “high schooler wearing black with his hood up in the dark. He was crossing the street to the bus stop on 120th. It was a close call.”

Many wanted to know where to get reflective tape to put on their kids’ clothing. Scott Woodham, who grew up in Fairbanks in the 1980s remembers kids so decked out in reflective gear they looked like, in his words, “a bunch of Slope workers.”

Alaska’s North Slope oil patch is big on safety, and the companies working there have long required their employees to wear reflective gear, which has become the norm for highway workers as well.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2009 imposed a requirement all road construction workers wear reflective vests for safety.

While the idea that it is smart to be seen seems to have caught in all industries that put people to work outdoors, the idea seems to have faded among members of the general public.

Woodham remembers how the Alaska State Troopers’ “Safety Bear” handed out reflective Safety Bear reflectors to all the kids in Fairbanks decades ago. The Safety Bear is now retired to the Trooper Museum.

 The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services still runs an “Alaska Reflector Program,” but its profile seems to have slipped, which might have something to do with fewer and fewer kids walking to school. The Alaska Reflector Program website warns of the dangers of doing so.

Take the bus

“Each year, vehicles kill an estimated 5,700 pedestrians; one out of seven of those are children,” the website says. “In Alaska, darkness descends early in fall and winter months. A child walking during darkness or in low light conditions wearing dark colors is first seen approximately 55 feet. away. This gives a driver less than one-second of reaction time.”

The website appears to be a little dated. The Governors Association said the death toll hit 6,000 in 2016 and stayed there in 2017. It is up from less than 5,000 five years ago.

The Governors report called for improvements in infrastructure – sidewalks, pedestrian underpasses, improved street lighting, high visibility crosswalks and more – to reduce the number of deaths and injuries. Alaska lacks most of those things although street lighting in the state’s largest city has been on the upswing.

Most of it, however, is intended to help motorists spot and avoid moose, not to protect pedestrians. All of which only serves to make it more imperative pedestrians (and cyclists) try to protect themselves.

One of the posters on Nextdoor noted the State of Alaska Driver Manual warning to pedestrians to “wear light-colored clothing when walking on or alongside the roadway at night,” and ” always “walk on the left side of the highway facing oncoming traffic.”

“If you are facing the oncoming traffic at least you have a chance to get out of the way,” he said. “If you have ever had one wheel caught in a snow berm on the side of the road and had your car pulled off towards the ditch you know how easily that can happen. Then there those that just aren’t always watching where they are going at any time of the year. You do not want to get run down from behind.”

The state Driver Manual notes that  “it’s a good idea (for motorists) to reduce speed and create a larger space cushion when you see pedestrians on or near the street,” but that advice is only sporadically followed in the state.

Alaska drivers are ranked ninth worst in the nation by the website SmartAsset, but it notes the ranking is skewed by the minimal number of traffic and parking tickets written in Alaska.

“Alaska has the sixth-highest DUI rate in our study and the fourth-highest fatality rate,” the website noted. “If we ranked states just by these two metrics, Alaska would rank number one in our study.”

Alaska is a potentially dangerous place to be on the roads even if you are buckled into heavy iron and surrounded by airbags. It only gets more dangerous in the dark.

And it gets far, far more dangerous if you are on the road unarmored in the dark.

Many of the Nextdoor posters did note that there are, in edition to reflective material, a lot of other ways to help make yourself seen along the roads these days. High-power headlamps are now available for reasonable prices almost anywhere, and high-intensity flashing strobes on pets and people make them impossible to miss.







21 replies »

  1. well, Matthew is certainly right as to some number of the deaths, Bill.

    in Anchorage, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if people started handing out stick-on reflective patches to the panhandlers, and if other people started rolling down their windows to tell panhandlers, “you know, i was going to give you money, but i don’t see any of those reflectors stuck on your jacket.”

    as a social experiment, it would be interesting to see how long it took this approach to get those folks covered in reflective material.

    • You know Craig, these panhandlers may just be a good portion of the NILF (not in labor force) males that have shown such increase in the last few decades. To some extent, they do have a job but just not one that’s recognized by BLS (bureau of labor statistics). My own feelings are that they are more self-employed as they set their own hours.

      • can’t real connect the dots with NILF and the BLS, just because the maybe self employed and keep their own hours.. Self employed persons still need a business license and are counted in the labor force.
        I will agree that people who work under the table and have no accountability to an employer are most likely not counted in the labor force.

      • These characters are pretty clearly NILF, IMO Al.
        And, I commercial fished for a number of years (trapped, too) without a business license. I did file a schedule C income tax form for those businesses and I doubt any of these panhandlers are reporting any of their income to IRS. Heheh!
        They are, to some extent, self-employed to my way of thinking (namely they are receiving $ for their efforts). Not unlike drug dealers! However, I suspect that few panhandlers and drug dealers are reported as employed.
        I’ve heard that some panhandlers with good sites in large cities make pretty good money-it may be that BLS has attempted to collect information on them. I don’t see any large-scale attempt to get a “safety bear” program going to cover them in reflective gear, however.

      • aw bill the truth, commercial fishing is subsidies by the that was not enough. you felt to cheat the state out a business license too. lol

      • Yessir Al, I was able to cheat the State out of business license for both Trapping and Fishing. I did look into possibly selling tanned pelts to tourists and was told I would need business license for that. There was no requirement for a business license to sell raw (dried) pelts and no requirement for selling raw fish. I suspect that fishermen selling processed at sea salmon to clients may need a business license but am not sure of that. The main thing here is getting fish tickets involved so bus. license may not be involved either.
        Like you say commercial fishermen are so subsidized already might as well skip the business license, as well. Heheh!

      • well bill some one mislead you. a business license is required to sell raw fur or fish. naics codes for business actives for the state of alaska. 114111 fin fishing and 114210 hunting and trapping. look them up. what the law states for game is, you may not sell parts game. except the fur of fur bearer if the were taken under a trapping license and season. same for fin fish. your ncommerical permit allows you to sell raw fish, but state law also state you still need a state business license also. soor m shift key is not working

      • Well Al, I operated without licenses for 25 plus years and never once was asked for a business license in any paperwork from any buyers. So clearly any license was unnecessary to doing business. And no local government ever suggested that I pay them any taxes, either.
        And frankly I never heard of a single other fisherman or trapper that went for said license. It just was not a subject that came up, since there was never a situation whereby one was asked for said license.
        I don’t feel guilty, if in fact I was able to cheat the State out of license fees-Trapping license was necessary and was asked for regularly. Business license was never needed for anything. I plead ignorance. Heheh!

      • not many people know the law. i only found it out many years ago, when a fellow trapper was filing paper work for the court in a child support case. the court showed the trapper where a business license require was to be found. since then i have researched the subject and found there are very few exemptions. my son was require to have one for mowing the neighbor’s lawn for money, m daughter needed one for baby sitting for money. remember when a young person had a kool-aid stand on 2nd. ave in fairbanks. it was pointed out that he did not have a business license and shut him down temporarily. if you get bored play around on this site it is a eye opener on licensing.
        1. When do I need an Alaska Business License?
        Per AS 43.70.020(a) a business license is required for the privilege of engaging in a business in the State of Alaska.

        Per AS 43.70.110(1) “Business” means a for-profit or non-profit entity engaging or offering to engage in a trade, a service, a profession, or an activity with the goal of receiving a financial benefit in exchange for the provision of services, or goods, or other property.

        Per AS 43.70.020(f) a business license may cover multiple lines of business. For more information go to: Multiple Lines of Business FAQs

        Per AS 43.70.105 there are few exemptions to having a business license. An exemption may exist under business licensing statutes but may not exist under other program or agency statutes. Procurement statutory requirements, professional licensing requirements, and other program requirements may supersede the business licensing exemption statutes.

        For more information, go to Business Licensing Statutes and Regulations.

      • How I see it Al, is that most businesses don’t require other licenses to operate-say mowing lawns and babysitting. Frankly I think it insane that those kids should need a $50 business license but should in lieu be able to acquire something that allows them to operate without costing them such money.
        I believe that’s why no fishermen or trappers are buying business licenses, too. They are already licensed to be able to market their products and thus a business license is nothing but an additional burden for no reason.
        Just my opinion.

      • A great opinion Bill and i also agree with you. What i was pointing out, is there are laws out there that are burdensome and over reached by our government. Most of these license requirements are only enforced by store front owners. Since they are visible to the Division of occupation and Licensing and they can investigate easily. DOL does not have the budget to investigate every persons compliance nor do they want to. Because it could implode this division,as the public outcry would ask for revision and a reduction in such feckless laws. It has been a burr under my saddle for years and love to point out what many residents don’t know. As i believe, a resident violates a law at least every day in this state.

      • Al,
        This topic of “licensed business” vs “scab” could be the topic of an investigative piece by Craig.
        Working as an arborist, I was licensed and insured as well as bonded.
        What I saw is there in no enforcement of the unlicensed folks in the community in various trades and sales positions.
        What happens is the folks who are willing to forgo the state license, also skip the liability insurance, bond and local borough licenses.
        In a town like Palmer, a contractor must have a state, borough and town license to compete for bids.
        What happens is most “self employed” guys drop out of the rat race and work for a lesser amount of cash per hour.
        A landscape person without a license may only charge 20 or 25 dollars an hour, when a fully licensed “tree service” would need to charge around 60 to 100 dollars an hour to cover all expenses.
        I suspect there are also 2 tiers in the commercial fishing fleet…
        One lane in heavy debt, paying all licenses and insurance, fees etc,
        While a second lane works as “under the radar” as possible to cut costs and make a narrow profit.
        Cronie Capitalism at work!

      • Steve, you suspect wrong, relative to commercial fleet.
        There are licenses to catch/sell fish but no regulations for bonding, insurance, etc. While some fishermen, no doubt, forego insurance if the expense is too burdensome for their income stream it is not a requirement as in auto insurance.
        Of course, there could be those that illegally sell fish (some are caught occasionally) under the table but that usually involves a processor illegally buying them which makes it even more interesting.
        Getting back to original argument, salmon fishermen are required to have both permit card and vessel license to operate in Alaska. Halibut fishermen need their quota card and I suspect things work out similarly for black cod, grey cod, etc. These fishermen also have crew that hold their own licenses, too. So……………………………essentially these business licenses (required according to Al) are nothing but a burden with no reasoning behind it. Nothing requiring said business license is ever needed to either fish or sell those fish.
        As I mentioned, I commercial fished for over 25 years without a business license and never once was I ever asked for one. And I must say also, I doubt there are any permit holders shelling out their money for them unless they are marketing their own fish after on-board processing. Further, I’ll also guess the crewmen don’t buy these licenses, either. No under the radar thing, either.

      • Bill,
        I am sure some of the vessels owned by corporations carry liability insurance and also some of the vessels that are financed by outside banks would require the owners to have insurance….as for the state of Alaska who subsidized most of the loans, I do not know.
        But this brings up a good point.
        Are these fishing vessels mostly without any liability insurance, and if so this could be part of the reason courts are not enforcing any “ramming” or bumping of vessels …
        Too hard to pay for lawyers, let alone settlement without insurance, therefore judges throw all cases out.
        Whew, no license, no insurance and these net guys get all our fish.
        Must really be the “fish mob” at work in AK.

      • Also Steve, your same argument may be used to suggest there are two tiers of “babysitters”-those paying their fees and those, flying under the radar, cheating the system!
        Yessir we’ll be needing to crack down on these Crony Capitalists.

      • Steve, hull insurance carries with it liability coverage (cheap) but I believe liability (without hull insurance) is prohibitive. My guess is that those with crew would carry liability for sure but not all fishermen have crew. Banks would probably require hull insurance to cover the loan, at least (and liability is cheap along with hull insurance).
        The crux here is that insurance is not required, just good business practice. The business license is also not required IMO and only a fool would get one (also my opinion). Just as a babysitter would be a fool to pay for one.
        Yessir crony capitalism at work!

  2. Nice article, but it shows that government is somehow responsible for common sense. The article was splattered with government programs (tax dollars) to try to fix stupid,being blunt about it. John Wayne has is good quote. ” Life is hard. Its even harder if you are stupid”. Ward Merdes a local Fairbanks attorney also has a ad that has bearing on this subject. “it is better to be alive, than being completely in the right and dead”

  3. Craig,
    Maybe you should market this site as “An Alternative To News”…
    This article is not mentioning any of the real “top killers” in Alaska….
    Such as Cancer, Opiate OD’s and Homicides.
    Sure the pedestrian stats are up, but let’s face it…it barely makes the chart of the 4,415 total Alaskans killed last year.
    Kyle Hopkins did a good story on this.
    As long as politicans allow industries (such as oil and gas, mining and cruise ships) to contaminate our fragile ecosystems and ground water, then our natural salmon stocks and game will become depleted and full of more and more toxins which will allow cancer rates to continue to rise.
    The passing of Ballot 1 may help this current imbalance of industry dominated policy currently at work in AK.
    Kyle reported:
    — “Cancer remained the leading cause of death overall, accounting for about one in five of the 4,415 Alaska deaths in 2017.– Opioid overdoses killed more Alaskans — at least 99 — than homicides did in 2017. Yet the statewide homicide rate was also on the rise, with 76 murders last year compared to just 54 in 2016.”
    What was the actual number of pedestrian deaths in AK last year?

  4. If we were to dig into the data and see who is getting hit in this increase, that might help as well. Recall that an injury traffic accident is considered “alcohol involved” if anyone, not just the driver, is intoxicated. The driver can be sober and hit an intoxicated pedestrian and it goes in the same count. I’d be willing to bet a small sum that if we looked at the victimology of the recent upswing, we’d be seeing a larger percentage of intoxicated adult pedestrian victims without fixed address.

    Before the folks who think with their hearts and not their heads jump in, that isn’t “victim blaming,” that’s precisely defining the problem so limited resources can be most efficiently applied. It does no good from a public safety (and lives saved) standpoint to spend limited resources putting “free” reflectors on a bunch of kids, whose parent’s responsibility that actually is, if the problem is actually impaired homeless people wearing dark clothing entering traffic on poorly lit streets between marked crossing zones.

    Unfortunately, usually the “cute kid” marketing and PSA’s are easier and more popular, and get the scarce resources. Leaving the larger, less photogenic, more complex problems unsolved.

    • I agree a bit more data might help here.
      That said, to make an assumption (because you are a betting man) and then go on to use that assumption to object to one public safety option is hardly the answer IMO. You don’t like the “safety bear” thing because you feel that’s “parent’s responsibility” but you are just stating an opinion, which is fine, but the fact still remains we don’t know who these victims are?

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