Ketchikan Drivers

Well, they say it's official once it's on Facebook, and I have now posted a "Question" (i.e. a Facebook-based poll) asking "Are people in Ketchikan relatively bad drivers?" The overwhelming answer - at least so far - has been yes.

This is not a question that I would have thought much about in years past. For one thing, I've only had my driver's license since last summer, and I have only ever driven in Ketchikan, making comparisons with drivers elsewhere difficult and asymmetrical for me. However, I really do agree with my poll respondents that Ketchikan drivers are relatively bad, and the reasons may surprise you. Here are some causes I can think of:
  1. Ketchikan is isolated. After all, we're on an island, surrounded by other islands, surrounded by roadless, unpopulated wilderness. Drivers here don't tend to experience very much driving elsewhere - and I of course am example number one. By itself, this factor doesn't automatically lead to bad drivers, but it definitely lays the groundwork for an insular driving culture. (Image: Cruise ship drivers, by contrast, must be very good indeed.)
  2. Ketchikan doesn't have much road. Not only are we unconnected with the rest of the world, but we're relatively closely connected as a community; that is to say, there are only a few dozen total miles of road on our entire island, while nearby Prince of Wales Island has a nearly countless number of roads to connect its many small communities, which as a whole constitute a much smaller population than Ketchikan's. (I don't know if POW drivers are better than us, but that's quite a different question.) Again, the point is that driving experience here is limited; I think that 20-minute drives are a real pain, while most people in the lower-48 likely think of such a road time as nothing.
  3. Highway driving is weird and largely unpoliced. Tongass Highway is the lifeline of Ketchikan, the long strip of road that everything connects to. Unlike your usual highway, though, Tongass passes through four stoplights, numerous speed limit changes, variations from 2 to 3 to 4 lanes and even several different names. In addition, I have never seen speed limits enforced outside the city limits. Inside, I have often witnessed city police often setting speed traps, pulling people over and handing out tickets left and right. The majority of the highway's length lies outside the city proper, however, as do the highest speed areas. Supposedly this is the domain of state troopers, and though I have heard of people being cited, in all my years I've never see any driving enforcement here myself.
  4. Lastly - and this is my favorite - Ketchikan's geography and environmental factors encourage inconsistent and irregular driving practices. Perhaps I've gone too far to point all these possible reasons for bad driving in my hometown, analyzing it to such a level, but all the same I think there are some legitimate points to be made regarding Ketchikan's unique geographic features. As one example, steep hills and elevation changes dominate roads within the city. I believe this encourages a tendency for faster acceleration from drivers seeking uphill traction. Hills also often limit visibility, such that it is absolutely necessary in most situations to pull into crosswalks before being able to see if someone is driving up toward you. (Almost always, cars going uphill do not have stop signs - for obvious reasons. This funny post also discusses this subject in comparison with DC.) I know I am very prone to pulling through crosswalks, even when it's unnecessary, and this can be a dangerous habit.
Many other examples and factors might be thought up, but here's my final comparison: In DC, drivers pressure other drivers, road complexity and parking scarcity pressure drivers, and bountiful police forces pressure them too. The result is mean, but highly skilled driving. In Ketchikan, drives are shorter and more laid back, and skills are formed not by split-second necessity but gradual habit forming often accompanied by significant backsliding on proper driving practices.

I say these things not to be critical, but rather as a warning, most of all to myself. Besides, wasn't it fun to think about?

[Update: Guess what I found on Twitter - http://twitter.com/#!/KtnBadDrivers.]

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