From 2015 to 2020, more than 3,000 people were injured and killed annually in car accidents in Alaska. The Alaska Highway Safety Office (AHSO) monitors the data gathered through the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2020, the recorded number of deaths was 66 from 55 reported fatal crashes. Additionally, in 228 cases, 289 people were seriously injured, while 2,928 suffered minor injuries in 2,084 crashes.
Reports identify speeding, impaired driving, and unrestrained vehicle passengers as the leading causes of car accident casualties in The Last Frontier. Also contributing to the numbers is the inexperience or lack of driving skills of novice drivers, particularly teens.
From minor injuries to tragic deaths, the repercussions of car accidents are real and palpable and can alter the lives of everyone involved. Laws are enacted and put in place for every individual’s safety. If you become a casualty of a car crash, know that you have rights and legal options to protect your welfare, family, and future.
Alaska Speeding Laws
Alaska implements two types of speeding laws: basic and absolute speed limits. The basic speeding law, as articulated in the Alaska Administrative Code (13 AAC 02.275), urges drivers to operate their vehicles reasonably and prudently, with due regard for the weather, visibility, traffic, and road conditions. This generally means that motorists must always drive at safe speeds. A safe speed depends on the conditions under which the driver is driving at the time. For example, 55 mph might be safe on a clear, sunny day. However, if it is dark or the road is wet and slippery, going 55 mph could be dangerous and is deemed a violation of the basic speeding law.
There is no simpler or better way to explain absolute speed limits than by saying that if the absolute speed limit is 55 mph and you drive faster than that, you have violated the law. Unless otherwise posted, Alaska's speed limitations for motorists are as follows:
15 mph in alleys
20 mph in business districts
20 mph in school zones
25 mph in residential districts
55 mph on other roadways
Penalties and Consequences for Speeding Violations
If you are ticketed for speeding, you face a maximum of $300 in fines. The violation may also result in one or two demerit points added to your driving record. Remember to keep track of the points you accumulate and be careful not to reach 12 or more within a 12-month period or 18 points in a span of 24 months because doing so will result in the suspension of your license.
Speeding could also lead to a reckless driving conviction if you cause harm or damage to a person or their property. The worst-case scenario is that you are charged with homicide if the violation results in the death of another person.
Alaska Impaired Driving Laws
Alcohol use is a major factor in most fatal car crashes in Alaska. Almost 45% of traffic deaths every year involve alcohol. It is also known that drugs, especially when combined with alcohol, contribute to a remarkable number of motor vehicle accidents. This is primarily why Alaska has strengthened the enforcement of its Driving Under the Influence (DUI) statute.
Under the law, if an individual operates a vehicle after consuming alcohol, an inhalant, or a controlled substance, they are driving under the influence. Non-commercial drivers 21 years and older are considered legally drunk if their blood alcohol content is 0.08% or higher. On the other hand, commercial vehicle drivers are legally drunk if their blood alcohol level is 0.04% or above. Meanwhile, there is zero tolerance for motorists under 21 — any alcohol concentration in their blood or breath makes it an automatic criminal DUI offense.
Penalties for Drunk Driving
A driver caught and arrested for a DUI offense will face criminal prosecution and administrative license sanctions from the Division of Motor Vehicles.
First-time DUI offenders face at least 72 hours in prison and a fine of at least $1,500. Their driver’s license revocation period is at least 90 days. A driver who commits a second DUI within 15 years of the first conviction faces at least 20 days in prison and a minimum fine of $3,000. Their driver’s license revocation period is at least one year. Meanwhile, a third DUI committed within 15 years of the previous two convictions carries a penalty of at least 60 days in prison and a fine of not less than $4,000. The driver’s license revocation period is at least three years. If, however, the offender commits the third offense within 10 years of the previous convictions, the minimum prison sentence is 120 days, and the minimum fine is $10,000. Driving privileges are also permanently revoked. After 10 years, the offender can request that their license be reinstated.
Penalties may also include surcharges and other court-ordered costs, community service, probation, substance abuse classes, and the installation of an ignition interlock device. The offender may also be made to pay for damages caused by the offense.
Buckle Up: Restraint Use in Alaska
In Alaska, seat belt laws are paramount. They apply to drivers and passengers aged 16 or older in all seats in the vehicle, and everyone must be wearing a seat belt while the car is in motion. The driver is legally responsible for all passengers under the age of 16, while those over the age of 16 are responsible for themselves.
Children in motorized vehicles must be safely restrained. The restraint systems required are as follows:
Type of Restraint
Up to 12 months
Rear-facing car seat
1 to 3 years
Forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness system
4 to 7 years
8 to 12 years
Booster seat until the child outgrows it, then an in-car seat belt
Failure to wear a seat belt properly is regarded as a primary offense. Police officers can pull over individuals who violate the seat belt law.
Penalties for Violations of the Seat Belt Laws
The fines set in Alaska are higher than in most other states. Drivers may be fined up to $50 for failing to restrain passengers under 16. Adults in the vehicle caught not wearing a seat belt are subject to a $15 fine. There is a provision, however, that allows the court to waive the $15 fine for a person convicted under this law if they donate $15 to the EMS organization where the violation occurred.
If you are the offender, paying the seat belt violation ticket issued counts as an admission of guilt. It may earn you demerit points on your driving record, affect your insurance, and lead to a license suspension if there are future infractions.
Options to Deal with the Seat Belt Law Violation
If you receive a ticket for violating the seat belt law, the easiest option to move forward is to pay the ticket, but there are other courses of action that you can take. You may request a mitigation hearing to get a reduction on your fine, set up a monthly payment plan, or, in lieu of a fine, be allowed to complete hours of community service.
However, if you believe you were wrongly issued a violation ticket, you can contest it before the court. You must either check the box on your ticket and mail it to the court or call in and request a hearing. For example, you can argue in court that you had a faulty seat belt or seat belt clip or were issued a ticket by mistake.
Teen Driving in Alaska
Alaskan teenagers may start driving earlier than most teens in the US. Under the state’s Graduated Driver License program, teens may obtain a learner’s or instruction permit at 14 with parental consent. While it is a great privilege to have, it is not without its risks. Holding the steering wheel increases teens’ exposure to crashes.
Accidents involving teens are commonly caused by developmental and behavioral issues in young people and inexperience. They mostly occur because the teen behind the wheel does not possess the skills or experience to act or react to uncertain road situations. Records show that every year, teen drivers account for approximately 20% of the fatalities and serious injuries on Alaska's roads and highways.
The Center for Safe Alaskans partners with the AHSO to implement year-in and year-out safe driving campaigns to educate and instill good behavior in the young driving community.
Alaska Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements
Bodily injury or death: $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident
Property damage: $25,000
Alaska also requires car insurance companies to offer drivers uninsured motorist coverage (UM), underinsured motorist coverage (UIM), and uninsured property damage (UMPD). These types of coverage pay for injuries and property damage costs if the at-fault driver causes a car accident and does not have insurance or enough insurance. Offers of UM, UIM, or UMPD policies can be rejected in writing. However, the following minimum amounts should be followed if one chooses to purchase them:
Uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury: $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident
Underinsured motorist property damage: $25,000
Failure on the driver's part to have the required insurance may result in the suspension of their driver's license.
Alaska Is a Fault State for Car Insurance Claims
Alaska follows the fault system in car accident cases, which places financial responsibility on vehicle owners or drivers at fault in a collision. They are required by law to provide compensation for any injury or property damage caused by the auto accident to another person.
A victim can proceed in any of the following three ways:
By filing a claim with their own insurance company, assuming that the loss is covered under the policy
By filing a third-party claim directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance provider
By filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver
Alaska Is a Pure Comparative Fault State for Car Accident Lawsuits
Alaska Statutes Section 09.17.060 declares that the state follows the pure comparative fault rule. When someone gets injured by another person’s negligence, the injured party’s share of the fault will proportionately decrease any damages awarded to them.
For example, assume the plaintiff proves that the other party’s negligence and pain and suffering are worth $100,000 in damages. The defendant, however, contests that the victim is also at fault for not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident and argues that the award for damages should be reduced proportionately. If the defendant successfully proves that 50% of the fault is on the plaintiff, then the award would be reduced to $50,000.
Alaska Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents
The statute of limitations in Alaska, according to Section 09.10.070 of the legislation, provides a victim who has been injured in a car accident with two years to file a lawsuit in the state's civil court system.
The two-year limit also applies to vehicle damage claims, starting when the car accident occurred. In addition, it covers situations where a car accident leads to death and the surviving family of the deceased person wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In this case, the two-year timeframe begins the day the victim passes away.
Average Settlement for Alaska Car Accidents
Most legal experts will say that it is challenging to determine the average settlement in car accident lawsuits as cases vary in the amount of damages incurred. However, a data study by The Miley Legal Group has shown that Alaska’s average injury settlement amount is $572,418, with a median of $270,000. The highest amount in the study was a $1.9 million verdict in favor of a man injured in a t-bone car accident who required disc replacement surgery.
For a victim to be awarded a fair settlement for damages, the parties and attorneys will consider insurance coverage, past and future medical bills, lost wages from time away from work, property damage repairs, and pain and suffering. Worth noting is that there are no caps on damages for car accident settlements and wrongful death lawsuits in Alaska.
Legal Resources for Alaska Car Accident Victims
Provided by the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles, the Driver Manual gives comprehensive and valuable information about the state’s road laws, licensing and renewal process, driving restrictions, safe driving tips, and related content.
Reporting crashes to the police is a must, and this site provides the forms that need to be completed and submitted by those involved in a car accident. Form 12-209 would be for the collision information, especially if the police did not respond to the accident. The other form is for the certification of driver’s insurance. Failure to submit these can result in an administrative suspension of one's driver's license.
It helps to be familiar with auto insurance — learn what is covered, how much is covered, and what the exclusions are, if any. Knowing the information in this guide ahead of time will be beneficial, especially if one gets involved in a car accident.
The Alaska Legal Services Corp. (ALSC) works as a private, nonprofit corporation that provides free legal assistance on civil matters to low-income Alaskans, including those who are victims of car accidents. Its services include providing legal information and advice, legal representation by an ALSC attorney, and referrals to other pro bono attorneys and legal aid providers.
For particulars about a court date or trial in relation to your car accident or personal injury lawsuit, you can find information on the Alaska Court System website.
To get information about car accident reports filed with the Alaska State Troopers, one can visit its website. The division's core missions and responsibilities include enforcing traffic laws and regulations, investigating rule violations, and responding to citizen concerns and inquiries.
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