Fatal crash rates spike on Sterling Highway this month

the Sterling Highway
The Sterling Highway in late 2020. (Riley Board/KDLL)

September has been a deadly month on the Sterling Highway.

“All year long, on the Sterling Highway, we’ve had six crashes and eight fatalities. All year long. In the last two weeks, we’ve had four of those crashes and six of those fatalities,” said Mike Zweifel, captain of the Alaska State Trooper office in Soldotna. “So really, the bulk of everything we’ve experienced so far in 2023 has happened in these past two weeks.”

Vehicles have crashed from Kasilof to Cooper Landing, closing the highway and drawing dozens of emergency responders to the scenes.

On Labor Day, a woman died in a head-on collision east of Sterling, and a man died after having a medical emergency behind the wheel just outside of Soldotna. On the Sept. 8, a woman and 2-year-old died in a crash with a cement mixer in Cooper Landing, and two men died in Kasilof on Sept. 15 after a truck behind them failed to slow for a school zone.

Zweifel said fatal crash rates are on the rise nationally, and Alaska is a little bit behind.

“In 2022, we had a little spike in fatal crash rates. This year, if we keep on the current trend, we’re gonna be flat with last year, or have a slight increase in crash rates for the second year in a row,” he said.

Zweifel said the recent crashes have nothing to do with road conditions on the Sterling Highway; in fact, two of crashes occurred in a section of the road that recently underwent safety improvements.

Instead, they all boil down to five dangerous aspects of driver behavior, he said: driving aggressively, driving impaired, driving distracted, being on a phone and driving without a seatbelt.

“If the general public was following those five guidelines, we probably wouldn’t have had these four fatal crashes here in the last few weeks,” he said.

Zweifel said he strongly encourages drivers to think about driving cautiously, unimpaired and without distractions while wearing a seatbelt — for their sake and the sake of emergency workers. He said responding to such frequent fatalities takes an emotional toll on all of the local emergency response agencies.

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