Bill Sniffin

Bill Sniffin

Two old friends were killed recently outside Jackson when a van full of tourists crossed the center line and hit them head-on. Carol Roemer, 68, Riverton, and Dorothy “Dot” Ashby, 78, Lander, were two of the nicest gals in Fremont County. On this day, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was no explanation for why the out-of-state tourist driving the minivan would have swerved into the oncoming lane. He was also killed with four of his passengers airlifted to area hospitals.

This deadly crash took the state’s traffic death toll to 92 for the year, compared to just 57 at this same time a year ago. Why have traffic deaths almost doubled this year?

Steve Peck in his Riverton Ranger editorial July 24 thinks he has the answer.

“It’s hard to believe traffic safety is not being affected by the new visual stimuli competing with the road outside the car for the driver’s attention inside the car,” he writes.

The crash we described earlier here occurred in the shadow of the Grand Teton Mountain Range, literally one of the most beautiful views in the entire United States. Yet, for some reason, a driver veered into the oncoming lane with deadly consequences.

Peck writes that it is not just cellphones that are causing the distraction. He cited a TV ad for a new car touting the 13-inch display on the car’s dashboard that provides the driver with all kinds of information. Hmmm. Perhaps the driver needs to be looking at the highway ahead rather than studying a monitor on the dashboard?

Two of the oldest reasons for people dying in car wrecks have not diminished much. Way too many people died because they were not wearing seat belts. This is an easy fix – if people would just wise up. Slight injuries turn into fatalities when the seat belts are not used.

Second big cause is impaired driving from alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. A lot of good work in public education and law enforcement has helped, but it still is a problem.

There are many reasons why Wyoming roads should be safer than they are. We have the lowest population of any state (seven people per square mile), we have very good roads, and most Wyomingites are veterans of all kinds of driving conditions. We also drive more miles per capita than any other state.

It seemed like for years our traffic death toll had been going down, but not this year.

Could it be speed? I loved it when the Legislature made the Department of Transportation increase speed limits from 65 to 70 on most roads and put in an 80 mph limit in many places on our interstate highways. Perhaps some of these accidents were caused by that, but I have not seen any conclusive evidence.

WyDOT has spent a lot of money on variable speed limit signs which slow traffic down below the posted limits under certain conditions, such as weather.

One of my coffee buddies claims that out-of-state drivers pass more often and more recklessly than Wyoming drivers. The increase in passing lanes should have dealt with that, you might think.

Perhaps it is caused by all those lumbering RVs and motor homes (like me?) that clog the highways nine months out of the year and slow the traffic down. Not sure.

WyDOT has also spent a lot of money on message boards which tell us to watch out for wildlife, motorcyclists, and bicyclists on the roads and other dangers.

It also seems to me that we have seen a surge in deaths in motorcycle crashes. More people are riding these days than ever.

One of the more recent fatal car crashes in Wyoming occurred July 28 and carried an old theme. At 4:44 a.m. a 2013 Ford Explorer left highway 191 and rolled.

Killed was 23-year old driver Ashley Skorcz of Rock Springs. She was not wearing her seat belt. Her 5-year-old daughter Emma was in the car but was also not protected and was life flighted to Utah for serious injuries.

Miss Skorcz was the manager of a Rock Springs convenience store and grew up in Farson. A fund has been started in Rock Springs for her daughter.

The fatality brought the state total to 94 deaths on highways in 2019. With the year barely half done, we are close to exceeding the highest annual total in the past 25 years when 102 people died in 1999.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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