The Richardson Highway is not only Alaska’s first real road and first reliable route into the Alaskan interior—it also remains one of the most dangerous roadways in the state to this day.
In 1898, the present day Richardson Highway was nothing more than a five foot wide pack trail built by poor prospectors desperate to strike gold in the Klondike gold rush. Before the trail was built, the only way to penetrate the Alaskan interior was by river. Most travelers on this primitive trail preferred to brave winter travel via horse and dog sled, because in the summer, “travelers were bogged down in deep mud and attacked by hordes of mosquitoes.”
Then in 1910, U.S. Army Captain Wilds P. Richardson helped turn the pack trail into a proper wagon road, which still exists today as the Richardson Highway, a 368-mile highway snaking between Valdez and Fairbanks.
So why is the Richardson Highway still so dangerous, and how can Alaskan drivers stay safe on the road?
Car Accidents on Richardson Highway Are All Too Common
The Alaska Department of Transportation’s most recent data dates back to 2011, but there is ample anecdotal evidence from the past few years that shows just how often drivers crash on this storied road. Unfortunately, vehicle rollovers, moose collisions, and fatal crashes are particularly common:
- August 22, 2013: A woman died when she crashed her small Acura into a moose, which ripped off the entire roof of her vehicle. Alaska State Troopers reported that they found the driver dead at the scene with major head injuries.
- February 7, 2015: A pickup truck carrying a couple rolled over near 12 Mile Village. The female occupant was killed, while the male driver was charged with both manslaughter and negligent homicide.
- August 12, 2015: Alaska State Troopers reported that a driver fell asleep, causing a fatal vehicle rollover accident on Richardson Highway near Badger Road. One man died, while a female passenger was medically evacuated. Three more children were taken to Fairbanks Memorial for non-life threatening injuries.
- October 18, 2015: State troopers responded to two separate rollover crashes that occurred near Delta Junction. In both cases, the rollover accidents were caused by black ice, though fortunately no injuries were reported.
- January 29, 2016: A driver lost control near Airport Way, crossed the median, and collided with a state trooper vehicle.
For up to the minute driving conditions or car accident reports on Richardson Highway, visit Alaska 511.
Richardson Highway Crash Statistics
The car accident and personal injury attorneys at Ringstad Law Office, P.C. have seen too many tragic accidents take place on Alaska’s roadways. If you live in between Valdez and Fairbanks, or if you regularly travel on the Richardson Highway, it is important to understand the unique hazards you face whenever you get into a vehicle. Nationally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 21,132 people died in car accidents and 2.05 million were injured in 2013.
According to the Alaska DOT, one person dies on an Alaskan highway every 5.1 days. In fact, 12.5% of all crashes in the state occur on just a handful of highways, such as the Sterling, Seward, Glenn, Parks, Richardson, Alaska and Tok Cutoff Highways. That figure might seem low, but while just 12.5% of crashes occur on these highways, 30.6% of fatal crashes occur there as well, plus 35% of moose-related crashes and 9.5% of crashes involving an intoxicated driver.
Between 1996 and 2006, How Stuff Works reported that 17 people died in moose-related car accidents. In Anchorage, Alaska, alone, about 130 moose die in crashes every year. Statewide in 2011, there were an unlucky 666 moose-vehicle collisions in Alaska.
While moose-involved crashes remain somewhat steady year to year, drunk driving rates are trending down. Even so, these tragic accidents still cost the country $37 billion every year. In 2012, more than 10,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes.
The Alaska DOT reported in 2015 that “Alaska traffic crash deaths in 2011 included nine pedestrians, ten motorcyclists, four off-road vehicle occupants, two bicyclists, and 53 occupants of automobiles, trucks or buses. Twenty-seven deaths occurred in alcohol and/or drug-related traffic crashes during 2011.”
How to Minimize Risks When Driving on the Richardson Highway, Alaska
In our four part Fairbanks, Alaska Car Accident Guide, we reported that for the most recent year data was available, the Fairbanks North Star area was one of the only regions in the state where severe car accidents increased. Even though fatal accidents have been decreasing over the past two decades, Alaska drivers, passengers, and pedestrians face challenges on the road that drivers in the lower 49 simply don’t face.
In addition to long periods of darkness, black ice, severe winter weather, and long distances to medical centers, Alaskan drivers also have to watch out for snowmobiles, moose, and other obstacles.
Any car accident lawyer or personal injury law firm will tell you that whenever you get on a roadway, you assume some degree of both risk and responsibility. Risk that you will fall victim to an act of God like black ice or a moose collision, or that you will suffer from a drunk or careless driver. In the same way, that you assume some risks, you also assume responsibilities to yourself, your passengers, and other drivers.
So how can you minimize the danger from common highway hazards when driving on the Richardson Highway?
- Safety first, seatbelt first. There’s a reason the DMV will fail you if you forget to put on your seatbelt right away. Seatbelts really do save lives.
- Use headlights whenever operating a motor vehicle of any kind. Doing so will help other drivers see you more clearly, even during daylight hours.
- Want to avoid a deadly rollover accident? Watch your speed on corners, especially when rain, sleet, snow, fog, or ice are present on the roads.
- Posted speed limits are intended for dry road conditions. When adverse road conditions are present, slow down and increase stopping distance.
- Thanks to public awareness campaigns, most people understand the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, in a time when almost everyone has a cellphone, distracted driving is just as deadly. In 2012, distracted drivers caused 3,300 deaths and 421,000 injuries. Put the cellphone and GPS away until you can pull over.
Need Legal Representation After a Car Accident? Contact the Fairbanks Lawyers at Ringstad Law Office, P.C.
The car accident attorneys at Ringstad Law Office, P.C. have more than 35 years of experience, and they’ve dedicated their lives to representing Alaska citizens like you in personal injury claims, whether it’s with an insurance company, another driver, or some other party. If you’ve been injured on Richardson Highway or any other Alaskan roadway due to the recklessness or carelessness of another, don’t hesitate to contact the Alaska personal injury attorneys at Ringstad Law Office, P.C. for a free consultation.