thankful for lower speed limit in park

By Jim Stanford on July 14, 2013

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Highway 26/89/191 through Grand Teton National Park carries a scary volume of traffic traveling at high speeds, with drivers often paying more attention to scenery than the road.

The lights deviated from the line of cars heading my way. OK, someone is swerving into my lane, I thought. It’s time for them to swerve back.

Instead, the lights came at me at a sharper and sharper angle. I jammed on the brakes, swerved hard into the shoulder and sagebrush, skidded and eventually straightened out on the road surface. My pack, phone, all sorts of gear inside my car were thrown about. I looked in the rearview mirror, expecting to see brake lights, skidding, a cloud of dust, but saw nothing.

Driving home from Fort Moose this week turned into a nightmare I long feared. It took a Dukes of Hazzard driving maneuver to avoid a head-on collision. The other driver must have nodded off, been drunk or perhaps been texting.

If you had asked me recently how I was most likely to die, I would have responded car wreck on that road. The volume of traffic in close proximity, traveling at 55 mph or faster, is insane. Maybe those who commute twice a day over the pass feel the same. The summer park traffic includes RVs, campers, motorcycles, all sorts of potential hazards.

I’m thankful I had set my cruise control at 45 mph on that drive home. I’m even more grateful the park lowered the nighttime speed limit to 45 in 2011. In another fraction of a second, I could have been a goner.

Take some extra time to get where you’re going this summer, and keep distractions to a minimum. It’s way too easy to be wiped out.

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32 Comments so far

  1. Mike July 14, 2013 5:54 pm

    I’m really glad someone in the community is willing to stand up in agreement with the park on this one. I’m even more glad that you made it out alive.

    It might just be me, but drivers seem to be even more insane this year than in any I can remember. Have had more than my fair share of close calls, in a car and on my bike. It seems like everytime I drive the M-W road, I get run off it. Be safe out there people.

  2. Chas July 14, 2013 6:26 pm

    Good to hear you’re still with us, Jim.

    I hate it when drivers can’t get anywhere near the speed limit – going 35 during the day. Or when they speed up in passing zones and slow down in no-passing zones (a regular event in the Park and on the Moose-Wilson Road.

    I was disappointed that the Park RAISED the speed limit by Moose and didn’t lower it by the airport.

    Speaking of speed limits, I’m still ticked off at the crazy SLOW speed limit on Snow King – even the cops ignore it.

    Back to the park and the bike path – I have seen cars driving down the bike path on several occasions. The responsible party needs to put collapsible bollards in the center of the bike path by all parking turnoffs. Light-weight plastic ones just in case bike riders aren’t paying attention.

  3. chris July 15, 2013 2:51 am

    spring gulch is the option i use in summer even if a takes a bit longer

  4. Jeff Dawkins July 15, 2013 8:05 am

    I too do not disagree with the lower speed limit … I have been pulled over in that road twice in the last 30 years – not drinking or texting … but , as always , admiring the views … maybe the slower speed limit will be a reminder of how dangerous the road can be (I did not get a ticket either time – just a warning … thanks for being understanding – it took two reminders – but I don’t speed there anymore and I do pay attention to my driving!)

  5. cv July 15, 2013 3:12 pm

    I drive that way 5 days a week. On Saturday I was facing oncoming from town to the airport the whole way. Not much one can do about it however, just be aware and when ya can, get the hell outta town. Gros Ventre road rules!

  6. russell scott July 17, 2013 8:50 am

    The situation will only change substancially when we have bus shuttles to Moose( and beyond) and residents & visitors take the personal responsibility to use them. The volume of traffic will then be reduced & while the professionals do the driving one can rubberneck, text or eat as one pleases without fear of catastrophe! Thanks to the pathway to Jenny Lk. we cyclists are away from the autos, but as Jim’s story shows, you want to keep your head up when the path nears the hiway ’cause a car could swerve over there & take you out!

  7. Nate B July 17, 2013 6:30 pm

    Jim,

    Glad you made it out okay! After reading your post yesterday, I had the same thing happen to me coming home from fishing the Green today. Scared the living hell out of me and my client. I managed some sort of zen/jedi move and managed to keep from rolling my car and boat/trailer. Worst part is that I couldn’t yell at the idiot who entered my lane… stay safe.

  8. Pat July 17, 2013 7:34 pm

    I’ll see self-driving cars before I’ll ever see regular buses to the airport.

    Is this story being published as part of the Town’s move to ban cell phone use in cars? Seems a little odd on the timing.

    I, for one, am tired of the nanny-state ideals coming out of Town Hall. Enforce safe-driving laws already on the books and we will have the people who can’t drive safely and talk at the same time putting down cell phones. Safe drivers don’t need to be penalized for the actions of the unsafe ones.

    Will the new law apply to law enforcement?

  9. jake July 18, 2013 6:56 am

    @Pat: Exactamundo! Read next Wed’s Props & Disses in the Planet.

  10. Jim Stanford July 18, 2013 8:45 am

    Before anyone hyperventilates on conspiracy theories, no. They are unrelated. The prohibition of cell phone use while driving was the mayor’s idea, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Feel free to give some input when the council takes up the issue formally.

  11. Brad July 18, 2013 2:13 pm

    I am inclined to agree as well. Distracted drivers are a hazard. Pat has point, too, and a pet peeve of mine. Too many infractions (stop sign and red light running, failure to yield, etc.) go unenforced. Including a fair number I’ve seen right in front of an officer. Stop signs and red lights appear to be suggestions to too many people.

  12. Woolly July 18, 2013 7:40 pm

    I’m not in favor of the Town giving the police another excuse to pull me over. Drivers need to pay attention, but we don’t need a cell phone ban.

  13. @Jake July 18, 2013 8:26 pm

    Jake, the JHW’s new website is so Fu$%ED up that I gave up using it. Jim’s always works – with a few minor exceptions that get corrected quickly.

    Hate cell phone users who drive and talk and AREN’T paying attention. They haven’t a clue that they are driving like total dicks. But I don’t think we need another law that makes law breakers out of everyone using a cell phone responsibly.

  14. murph July 19, 2013 11:24 am

    vote no to the nanny state..but if they ban anything first start with texting and driving that kills more i believe.

  15. PC July 22, 2013 12:30 pm

    Texting while driving has been illegal in Wyoming for several years.

    http://1.usa.gov/13ZfBFw

    Problem is, the law is nearly impossible to enforce. How can an officer be sure someone’s texting and not simply dialing a number? They can’t look at a driver’s phone or records w/o a warrant. Thus the only time they’d go through the burden to fully investigate the issue is in the case of accidents where health or property has been harmed.

    Texting while driving has now replaced drunk driving as the number one cause of of death and injury among teen drivers.

    Cell phone use while driving makes you 4x more likely to get in a crasher serous enough to hurt you and cuts your attention to the task at hand (driving) by nearly 40%.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined that texting while driving is much more dangerous even than driving under the influence (6x).

    I would note that many of the aforementioned supporting arguments that some can handle devices while driving, and do so responsibly sound eerily similar to those of drunk/buzzed drivers…

    The arguments on opposition to these for ‘nanny state’ reasons or that some, ‘responsible’ texters/talkers should be allowed to operate are a murky/gray at best. The black and white of the issue is that if drivers put down electronic devices, fewer people will be killed or injured by distracted drivers.

    I would argue that very few phone calls are important enough to risk your own or someone else’ life. (Note again that texting is already illegal)

    There’s no arguing that you’re a better, or even comparable driver when using electronic devices behind that wheel. You’re not.

    One clarifying question about this discussion: Would drivers be allowed to use hands-free options to take calls while driving? Speakers, headphones, on-board bluetooth to take calls w/o phone in hand?

    Agree that basic traffic laws need to be better adhered to and enforced in this, irrespective of vehicle type; bike or car.

  16. @PC July 22, 2013 5:13 pm

    @PC

    Perhaps we should ban driving.

    Many things are dangerous. And many activities while driving are dangerous. Reading a map, checking the GPS, Looking at hot guys, eating, tuning the radio, daydreaming, driving at night, and driving while tired.

    The issue isn’t texting. No one thinks texting while driving is a good idea. Texting is illegal in just about every state. And cell phone use among young drivers is banned in most states.

    The issue is this: Is this driver driving safely down the road?

    How many cell calls were taken, or made, while driving in Teton County today? 10,000? 20,000? 30,000?

    Now, how many accidents happened today in Teton County as a result of distracted cell phone users? Wanna guess? What’s the answer Jim? Ask the JPD.

    I can sit by the traffic light at Albertsons and count 100 or more drivers using a cell phone in 15 minutes during rush hour.

    Using a cell phone while driving is so common among law enforcement that I think it has replaced the 2-way radio.

    The fact is that cell phones have a value to drivers. They are also a distraction. Everything in life is a trade off.

    It will never be safer to use a cell phone while driving than to not use a cell phone – or any electronic device, or heater controls, or whatever. No one argues otherwise.

    Convenience, productivity, and even safety are just some of the reasons drivers use cell phones.

    Spend a little time at the dispatch center and you’ll find cell phone users calling in poor drivers on a regular basis. The Drunks. The Speeders. The Distracted. The Idiots. The Law Breakers.

    Nanny laws are for children. Keep it that way.

    Map of State Texting Bans: http://www.iihs.org/laws/maptextingbans.aspx

    Map Hand-Held Bans: http://www.iihs.org/laws/maphandheldcellbans.aspx

    Specific Laws by State: http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/state-laws.html

  17. marilyn July 22, 2013 9:22 pm

    The sign department at the City is probably wetting their pants over this one.

    http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/article.php?art_id=9958

  18. Richard July 23, 2013 6:38 am

    This is what happens when you elect liberals to office. They want to legalize pot and criminalize cell phones.

  19. murph July 23, 2013 11:41 am

    great post pc
    btw, i think there is legislation out there proposing to have the right to check your phone calls without warrant in the case of an accident. is that too far?

  20. Sam July 23, 2013 2:02 pm

    The problem isn’t the speed limit, it’s the drivers.

    The real problem is all the a-holes who stop to take photos of mule deer and pronghorn and will literally not even pull off the highway to do it. They just happily block a whole lane of traffic in their selfish pursuits. Then they pull out right in front of anyone only to go 35 mph in a 55 zone. THESE are the people who need tickets…

  21. kevin p. July 23, 2013 7:15 pm

    “The problem isn’t the speed limit, it’s the drivers.”

    Praise the lord.

  22. ransas July 24, 2013 11:26 am

    The weak cellphone laws which Stanford is referring too, aren’t going to make the roadways safer. Motorists have an entilled attitude torwards driving and rightfully so. There are very little consequence to reckless driving….Kill/maim a pedestrian/cyclist, slap on the wrist dented fender….head on with another motorist seatbelt and insurance makes life (for the most part) injury and worry free…The rare ticket from the police for murderous behavior, big deal, you can get twenty duis before there’s serious talk of suspending your license…The auto industry has created this remarkable culture where it’s users are immune from harm physically and letigiously…The purpose of the judicial system is to create balance in our society, when it comes to transportation, the judicial system has only furthered the imbalance. The feel-good, see-we’ve-done-something-usefull, slap-on-the-wrist cellphone laws are further proof that the legislative/judicial system is entirely committed to ignoring the fact that there is nothing protecting the citizenship from hazardous motorists outside of becoming one yourself. The ruling class is so afraid of causing the auto industry to lose a customer, they refuse to punish and label criminal activity as such.

  23. @ransas July 24, 2013 4:12 pm

    @ransas

    Get some facts.

    As cell phone use has exploded, crash statistics have actually declined.

    http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/cats/listpublications.aspx?Id=E&ShowBy=DocType

    Deaths from motor vehicle accidents have declined.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

    Bicycle-car accidents resulting in death have declined.

    http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/facts/crash-facts.cfm

    Gun Deaths Will Exceed Traffic Fatalities By 2015, Study Says:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-19/american-gun-deaths-to-exceed-traffic-fatalities-by-2015.html

    Rise of cell phone usage:

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/04/05/graphic-rise-of-the-mobile-phone/

    Census Data on Traffic Accidents:

    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/transportation/motor_vehicle_accidents_and_fatalities.html

  24. Dolph July 24, 2013 5:54 pm

    And the hyperbole trophy goes to…..

    @PC for “Perhaps we should ban driving”

    ~crowd erupts in applause~

  25. ransas July 24, 2013 7:45 pm

    Get some context….I don’t understand what your stance is, nor do I think you understand my arguement. I’m neither for nor against texting laws.

  26. Heller July 24, 2013 7:56 pm

    RE “Perhaps we should ban driving”

    I’d like a bike ban for the bikers that can’t ride safely. The paint all over town looks nice; however, encouraging more bikes to mix with an increasing number of tourists is a dumb idea, IMO.

    Signs & bikes are just one more distraction for drivers. Have you ever been behind a tourist as they come upon the PED-X signs in the crosswalks that have a STOP SIGN picture?

    It should be a yield sign. Our Town Leaders, of course, failed to anticipate the fact that many tourists make a full stop when there’s no reason to do so. Suddenly some idiot slams on the brakes because he sees a stop sign on a PED-X bollard. Good work, Town Hall!!

    Speaking of stopping, maybe bikers will realize stop signs apply to them if we paint the words BIKES MUST STOP on the roadway next to intersections. Even a rolling stop is OK with me if you slow down to a slo-mo speed. Hey, I bike and I stop and many others do, but not enough of ya.

    Of course, sharing the road with cars isn’t an ideal many bikers understand. Staying to the right side of the roadway when safe to do so is a concept they fail to grasp. And darting in and out of traffic looks fun for you but it makes me think you’re pretty dumb. Go ride the pass – it’s more fun.

    Yes, drivers are often just as dumb.

  27. chuck July 25, 2013 11:36 am

    The tourist drivers and local bikers don’t bother me. I expect them to do silly stuff and plan accordingly.

    I expect bikers to be biking down the sidewalk opposing traffic at a high speed and appearing in my windshield the second after looking in that direction and just as I’m pulling into traffic from a side street. I’ve been driving long enough to expect silly stuff at the intersection of Broadway & Cache, Broadway & Pearl, etc.

    The driver who goes from his lane to yours at the very last second is the one I worry about. I’m always looking for them but there’s not much you can do in a split second except to be buckled up ahead of time.

    Compared to big cities, Jackson has fairly tame roadways.

  28. KB July 25, 2013 12:31 pm

    I have survived 40 tourist seasons on a bicycle by assuming that every motor vehicle is out to get me, personally. Take NOTHING for granted. Trust nobody behind a windshield. Smile!

  29. Lov July 25, 2013 4:07 pm

    KB: It’s a good strategy for all drivers, pedestrians, and bikers. Trust nobody and be a defensive walker, biker, driver.

    I’m starting to agree with those that think the timing of the story is odd.

    The speed limit on Cache was just reduced from 30 to 25. We just painted bike lanes all over town. And Jim wants to ban cell phones.

    hummm.

  30. ransas July 28, 2013 8:30 am

    Oh God another moron bichin about bicyclists not stopping at stop signs. Give it a rest. How much damage was done to innocent bystanders by a cyclist compared to how much damage was done to innocent bystanders by cars/trucks and buses. How many people died as a result of motorists following the the rules in Teton County (ignoring the obvious deaths caused by the non-law abiders)? That’s right more then one. How many people died as a result of cyclists breaking the rules? less then one. Your scarecrow argument is merely a distraction to keep the heat off the lifestyle of car based kill, maim and destroy.

  31. @ransas July 28, 2013 4:28 pm

    ransas:

    Provide some evidence, please. Back up your opinion with facts. Otherwise, you should give it a rest.

    The idea that bicyclist don’t need obey traffic laws is an idea that only a nut job would suggest.

    The Transportation Sector is one of the reasons for our great economic & physical health. Without roads and cars, you won’t find too many tourists in Jackson – OK, that’s a benefit, I’ll be honest.

  32. Jim Stanford July 29, 2013 2:31 pm

    PC, this was just a preliminary discussion about the idea of a hands-free ordinance. The mayor brought it up at the end of our last meeting under matters from mayor/council. Any proposed ordinance likely would come up during a workshop and then undergo three readings, as you know, so there will be plenty of opportunity to give input. Good thing, too, as there is no shortage of opinions on the subject!

    I think the consensus was to model an ordinance after other towns “back East,” like Green River and Cheyenne, Wyo. So yes, an exception might be made for hands-free devices. Others may argue that hands-free still causes distractions, too. I don’t know how it will play out.

    As for suggestions that there is some sort of suspicious timing to this post, I reiterate: No. The close call in the park occurred nearly a week before the council meeting, and when I wrote this post I had no idea the mayor would bring up the idea of a ban. I had no hand in lowering the speed limit on North Cache, either, although I’m pleased by it. The mayor and I don’t sit down and coordinate p.r. campaigns involving this blog.

    Ironically, if the close call in the park reinforces anything in my mind in regard to transportation planning, it’s that we need more roads to move people better around the valley and lower the insane volume of traffic on the existing roads — while continuing to provide alternative means of transportation, of course. I like quiet country roads where a moose or elk can occasionally cross without immediately being mowed down. But that’s a subject for a different blog post some day.

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