Tuesday, January 24, 2006
The Colorado Department of Transportation should erect flashing signs along U.S. Highway 40 at Rabbit Ears Pass to warn motorists that snowmobiles might be crossing the road.
A need for the signs became apparent Jan. 10 when Michigan resident Carol Wayland was hit by a truck and killed as she tried to cross the highway on a snowmobile near the Dumont Lake parking area.
Stacey Stegman, who leads the state transportation department, said last week that she doubted the department would attempt to increase safety on that stretch of road any time soon, despite Wayland's death.
She noted that no fatalities occurred on U.S. 40 in the Dumont Lake area during 2003 and 2004, which made it relatively safe by the department's reckoning.
She argued also that snowmobiles were not a traffic problem as far as the department was concerned.
"I've worked at (CDOT) for 10 years, and I have never heard of major snowmobile accidents there," she said.
"I've actually never heard of snowmobiles being an issue. Bicycles on U.S. 40 tend to be more of an issue than snowmobiles."
It's true that fatal collisions between snowmobiles and road vehicles have been rare. They account for only about 1 percent of snowmobile-related deaths each year, according to the American Council of Snowmobile Associations.
It would be ill advised, however, to assume Wayland's death was a fluke, when it might instead have been the first instance of a trend.
Snowmobiling is a booming sport, and the Rabbit Ears Pass area has become a destination for snowmobilers from across the Midwest and North. It could be that the number of riders and drivers trying to coexist in the area has only now reached the point of being a problem.
The bottom line is, one tragic death should be enough to elicit a reasonable response from the transportation department. Erecting some warning signs would be reasonable. They are relatively cheap, easy to maintain, don't hinder anyone's ability to use the area and just might save somebody's life.
We urge local elected officials and business leaders, especially those in the tourism industry, to lobby the transportation department for this reasonable effort to enhance public safety.
And if the state pleads poverty, we suggest those business leaders should raise money to help pay for the signs.
Doing so would help protect the area's reputation as a tourist friendly destination and fulfill a much higher obligation to do whatever is reasonable to protect residents and visitors.