July 11, 2012


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Just when you thought that travel on the highways in western North Dakota couldn’t get much busier or scarier than it has been, it has. While there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in the typical oil-related traffic on the roadways, we now also have to take into consideration that the summer recreation season and road construction seasons are now both in full swing.
And that means that everyone (yes, everyone) needs to drive a little slower, be aware that the person in front of them may or may not know how to deal with some of our road improvements, or is simply overwhelmed by the volume of traffic that there is on the roads. And when we forget that, accidents can, and do, occur.
All of us have become somewhat accustomed to the dangers of travel in western North Dakota. But when you come upon an accident that could have been, and should have been, avoided, the reality of the need to drive defensively becomes painfully evident.
A case in point was this past Friday, as I was traveling east of New Town on N.D. Highway 23 I became part of a traffic jam that had occurred approximately three miles east of New Town and quite literally shut down traffic in both directions for well over an hour (that I know of) and backed up traffic in both directions for over three miles.
While I never heard all of the details of the accident, what I did learn from a motorist who was a couple of vehicles behind the accident, which involved a small car, a semi truck and a pickup pulling a flatbed, was unbelievable.
Both shoulders of N.D. 23 had been removed as part of a highway project and traffic cones lined the roadway to alert drivers traveling east and west on the roadway of that fact. Yet, on that hilly and heavy traveled stretch of highway where the speed limit had been reduced to 40 mph, someone decided that they couldn’t wait any longer and decided to pass another vehicle. Unfortunately, they made the wrong decision at the wrong time and a three-vehicle accident resulted with the New Town Fire & Rescue being called to the scene to use the “Jaws of Life” to extricate the occupants of the small car.
I don’t know how serious any of the injuries were, but one would hope that no one was killed or seriously injured.
This was an accident, like so many other accidents that have happened on our roadways in the past couple of years, that never should have occurred. But it did. And like so many other traffic accidents, it occurred because a driver became impatient and decided to pass when they shouldn’t have, was distracted, or drifted too close to the shoulder or the center line and then over-steered as they tried to get back into their driving lane.
The advice for traveling this summer in and around McKenzie County is simple. Drive slower and plan to take more time than usual to reach your destination. And most of all, drive defensively. While you may be operating your vehicle in a safe manner, that doesn’t mean that the driver approaching you in the other lane or the driver that is following you is.
The bottom line is we want everyone to reach their destinations safe and sound. Motor vehicle accidents can and do happen. But by exercising a little self-control and common sense, it can be a safe and enjoyable summer.