How to Stay Safe Driving During The Thaw
I normally do not hop into a truck with a man I have not met, but to conduct the research for this article, I made an exception. I hoisted myself into the bright yellow tow truck with the giddiness of a second grader.
“Welcome to my office,” Lee Carpenter, owner/operator of Artic Express Towing and Recovery, says.
He is wearing a brown Dickies jacket and a camouflage baseball hat.
Carpenter has been hauling wrecks for more than 30 years. He owns the only towing company in Chugiak-Eagle River. He slowly puts the truck in gear and we rumble down Glenn Highway.
I flip through Carpenter’s portfolio – two photo albums full of mangled cargo trucks, twisted passenger vehicles and even and a few smashed airplanes.
Today, Carpenter wants to show me something that worries him. He pulls his truck onto the shoulder of the Glenn Highway, pointed south. We are easily visible to other drivers as his yellow lights flash and his brake lights gleam red. Due to the size of the tow truck, we hang slightly over into the lane.
Alaska state law requires that motorists slow down and move over for emergency vehicles – which include tow trucks.
“Most people don’t listen,” Carpenter says, shaking his head in frustration.
We sit on the shoulder for five intense minutes and watch the cars whiz by. Within that time, only one car changes lanes. The other vehicles do not appear to have decreased their speed. One small car almost clips us.
“Every one of these (Artic Express) trucks have all been hit. Sooner or later, it’s going to be bad,” Carpenter says.
Carpenter describes his truck as a “20,000 pound portable guillotine.” He urges drivers to be aware of what is happening around them, not just the car ahead.
“Sometimes we’ll be at an accident scene and someone will crash into us because they’re not paying attention,” he says.
We leave the highway to pick up a scrap vehicle Carpenter is bringing to the Chugiak fire station for practice drills. Carpenter lets me pull and push the hydraulic levers as he helps me get the grey sedan onto the truck bed and chained into place.
On the way back from the station, Carpenter hits his breaks to show me how long it takes the tow truck to stop. At 40 mph, it takes 400 feet for the unloaded truck to come to a complete stop. That is 50 feet longer than a football field.
Carpenter advises motorists to give his trucks plenty of space and says it is not necessary to speed up to get ahead of a tow truck.
“We go the speed of traffic,” he shares.
Should the break-up get the best of a driver and a tow truck be needed, Carpenter suggests the following.
- If the car is still operational and in a safe location, stay with the vehicle. If the situation is unsafe, exit the area immediately.
- Expect up to an hour for tow truck response.
- If a driver can’t remain, leave the vehicle unlocked with a key inside. “Ten or fifteen minutes on the side of the road can be life or death,” Carpenter observes.
- Drivers should place a note with contact information, including where they would like the vehicle towed, somewhere visible.
Renee Oistad, from the Public Information Office of the Anchorage Police Department, explains municipality towing procedure.
“As long as the vehicle is not hindering/blocking traffic or otherwise creating a hazard, we generally give folks 24 hours to get their vehicles towed off the street.”
In the case that a community service officer initiates a tow, it is possible an Eagle River or Chugiak resident would have to travel to Anchorage to retrieve their vehicle.
Troy Sayer knows a few things about auto accidents. He has run his Eagle River agency, Troy Sayer State Farm Insurance, for 18 years. Sayer urges community members to have plenty of windshield washer fluid and check that their tires are still good after the long winter season.
If an accident occurs, Sayer says motorists should stay calm and make sure that everyone is safe.
“Err on the side of calling the police,” he advises.
Drivers should take pictures of both vehicles and write down notes. Many insurance companies have apps that allow accident victims to start filing their claim on-scene.
Sayer has another recommendation.
“You have one chance right there and then to find a witness.” He notes that in a time when adrenaline is high, motorists might forget details.
Artic Express is gearing up for an increase in accidents as spring temperatures rise and fall, causing snow to melt and ice over.
Ironically, warmer temperatures will mean more business for Carpenter’s towing company. Drivers “get complacent and let their guard down,” Carpenter says.
His words convince this writer not to be complacent and to make plenty of room for that tow truck on the side of the road. Stay safe.
Author’s Note: Visit http://www.autoinsurancecenter.com/winter-safety.htm online for information on handling winter driving conditions specific to your vehicle. Find Municipality of Anchorage towing regulations online at: https://www.municode.com/library/ak/anchorage/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TIT9VETR_CH9.54TOPR.
Editor’s Note: Melinda Munson holds a degree in Journalism from the University of Washington. She is the mother to six children – four of which are special needs. She and husband, Paul, live in Chugiak. Reach Melinda via email at: Melinda.Munson@echoak.com.