ODE to Driving Safety

Safe driving is a lifestyle
That we should all embrace.
Concentrate on the road ahead,
Not putting makeup on your face.

Texting should be a crime indeed,
You can’t drive and type a letter.
Loud music distracts us also,
Singing softly is so much better.

A cheeseburger tastes so really good,
But it should not be on our diet.
And you can’t eat such food as this,
While driving so just don’t try it.

If you like to read a book,
Or talk on your cell phone,
Please talk only stopped beside the road,
And read at home while on the throne.

Don’t’ drink or smoke behind the wheel,
As both can contribute to wrecks.
Keep your calculator out of sight for sure,
Don’t be balancing your monthly checks.

Be patient, don’t let road rage get you,
It’s not necessary to be in the lead.
Be prepared to pay a costly fee,
If through work zones you do speed.

Always watch the road ahead,
For debris or a passing deer.
In just a matter of seconds,
The end could be so near.

 If you got to the pearly gates,
Your prayers too late to say’um,
Tell St. Peter on your car TV,
You were watching Billy Graham.

Your family and friends all love you,
So be wise and use your head.
Live life with all its’ blessings,
And don’t wake up tomorrow dead.

--Freddie Simmons 09/09 

Thanks for your support!

by Kim Stich
Thanks so much to all the people who blogged and commented on Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day. For 20 days, we’ve heard some heartwarming stories, terrible tragedies, good safety information on ways to improve safety on our roadways and even some poetry.
The official blog is finished, but people can continue to add safety stories/information to this blog. October 10 is the official day to celebrate Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day, but it’s important to spread this safety message all year long. Please feel free to use this blog as a way to keep on thinking about safety.
 In addition to this blog series, we have had many activities that have taken place or will take place soon in Kansas to promote Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day:
•Cities and counties across Kansas were invited to sign local proclamations in support of Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day
•Nearly 700 Kansas kids ages 5-13 participating in a safety poster contest with 18 kids receiving regional and statewide recognition.
•Public Service Announcements airing across the state.
•Distributing 20,000 safety brochures throughout Kansas.
•Gov. Mark Parkinson signing a proclamation designating Oct. 10, 2009, as Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day in Kansas.
For more information about Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day, go to http://www.brakesonfatalities.org/. Or you can call KDOT’s Bureau of Transportation Information at 785-296-3585.

Kim Stich is a Program Consultant with KDOT. 

Put The Brakes on Fatalities Day started right here in Kansas

by Larry Emig
National fatality data from 1995 to 2000 indicated that over 250,000 fatalities occurred or an average of approximately 41,500 each year, over 113 per day and nearly one every 13 minutes Kansas experienced 2,907 deaths during this period. These fatalities in many cases resulted from unsafe driving habits.
Many federal and state programs have been effective educating drivers with safe driving practices however, for many years it has seemed to me that a “focus event” was needed to promote safe driving habits which would aid in reversing the number of annual fatalities
In the early 1990s I was at a breakfast meeting with a friend, Mel Larson, in Washington, D.C We were discussing safety issues and causes of accidents when we agreed that the over 41,500 annual vehicle deaths were far too many and a program was needed to reverse this trend We discussed having a “death free day” or a program similar to the “Great American Smokeout.” This discussion was never erased from my mind.
 I also never forgot the tragic automobile death of a high school friend in a roll-over accident, or the story of my college friend who followed an emergency vehicle on his way home for Thanksgiving The emergency vehicle turned out to be traveling to an accident where his brother had been killed from crashing into a culvert’s concrete guardrail.
These events, along with accidents which seatbelts saved the lives of my kids while in their teens and early 20s, added to my belief that a focus event to change driving habits was needed.
 In late 2000, while an officer of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) I introduced the need for a “Death Free Day” driver safety program with a concept similar to “Great American Smokeout.” After much discussion it was approved, and the program’s name became “Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day” and October 10, the official day. Improving the safety of three elements--the roadway, the driver and the vehicle--were and continue to be the emphasis of the program for reducing fatalities.
 A national website (http://www.brakesonfatalities.org) provides background, historical and annual promotional information. In 2005, the Transportation & Development Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) became manager of the website. Several members of the T&DI Transportation Safety Committee also participate on the National Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day Committee. The T&DI, members of the national committee and specifically Mark Van Hala, an engineer from Orange County, Florida and currently my co-chair, deserve thanks for their many efforts promoting the program.
We have received outstanding support from Secretaries Dean Carlson and Deb Miller of the Kansas Department of Transportation (from which I retired in 2006 after a 40-year career), and many statewide and national organizations that focus on safety. There have been activities to highlight this campaign every year in many states across the country, but Kansas has been one of the leading states promoting the program and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Kansas Put the Brakes on Fatalities committee members have come from both the public and private sector. They are to be thanked for being creative and dedicated to the program They have held media events, provided safety programs at schools, created public service announcements, distributed thousands of brochures, conducted child passenger seat check lanes, obtained governors’ proclamations… the list goes on and on.
We initiated one of our most successful activities in 2002: a poster contest for all Kansas kids ages 5-13. More than 5,600 kids have participated by drawing on paper their ideas for reducing fatalities on our streets and highways. I have helped judge this contest for many years and I can tell you, it isn’t easy. They are all so creative. Most of the kids provide safe driving messages with examples that include wearing seat belts, obeying traffic signs, watching out for trains or animals, or no text-messaging drawings.  We have three winners in each region so that kids across the state have a chance participate and be honored.
But we think all the kids who enter the contest are winners; they took the time to think about safety. Today’s kids are our future drivers and there is hope that they will have safe driving habits for the rest of their lives. There is hope that when these kids and all drivers commit to safe driving habits we will have a chance for a FATALITY FREE DAY.
 Secretary Deb Miller started our 20 days of great blogs and they have continued every day. I am very honored to be able to wrap up this series, but encourage you to continue the efforts to put the brakes on fatalities.
 (For more information, please visit www.brakesonfatalities.)

Larry Emig is retired from KDOT and the founder of Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day.

Underage Drinking

by Phyllis Marotta
When my kids were in high school, I was aware that there were underage drinking parties occurring in our small town As a parent, I wasn’t thrilled with that, and although I talked to my kids about the dangers of drinking and driving, I didn’t take action to prevent or report the parties, chalking it up as a “rite of passage” that teens just go through  Besides, some of those parties were hosted by friends of mine who promised to take keys, not let the kids drive, etc., so I thought, “no big deal.”
 As an employee for KDOT’s Traffic Safety Section, I know better now....
 I know last year in Kansas, there were a total of 556 crashes which involved an alcohol-impaired driver under the age of 21, resulting in 354 injuries and 18 deaths.
 I know adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind, and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence, according to the American Medical Association.
I know teens drink less frequently than adults, but when they do drink, they drink more heavily, putting them at a higher risk from the effects of binge drinking.
 I know youths who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21, according to the Centers  for Disease Control and Prevention.
 I know there are laws which prohibit providing minors with alcoholic beverages or cereal malt beverages OR unlawfully hosting minors consuming those drinks, and that the penalties for breaking these laws include fines and jail time.
 I know there is ZERO-tolerance for minors who attempt to operate a motor vehicle with a breath or blood alcohol content of .02 or above.
 I know there is a toll-free number, 1-866-MUST-B-21, to report underage drinking anonymously to law enforcement.
 I know I’d rather have the hosts and minors get in trouble with the law than have law enforcement knock on a door to notify a parent or loved one of a traffic fatality due to teen alcohol use.
 I know there are friends and families who are missing 18 loved ones as a result of underage drinking and driving in 2008.
 I know underage drinking is not a rite but a WRONG of passage.

 Phyllis Marotta  is a Program Consultant in KDOT’s Traffic Safety Section.


by Larry Thompson
Rock 'n' roll on the radio, and just thinking back in my subconscious somewhere about how we can achieve this goal of a day with no fatalities on the public road system. How do we get drivers to modify their risky behaviors? How do we get them to put on their seat belt, make better decisions etc.? I think about a conversation with my better half--the teacher. For as long as I have known her, she has been getting her students to modify their behaviors on a daily basis. Her secret: Don’t give a child a direct order, give them a choice to make. “Would you like to quiet down and stay in our class or would you like to be by yourself for a while in the time-out room?” "Would you like to go to afternoon recess with the class or stay in the room to finish your work?” “Do you want to go out to eat tonight or stay home and have salad?” Works with me, too.
So if it is about choices, how do we get people to make smart choices? I am reminded of a phone call I took from a very agitated woman who had just been a witness and near-participant in an accident on US-50 west of Garden City. She was almost too angry to talk. She could not believe that KDOT would allow such a dangerous intersection to exist. People could be killed! I asked her to tell me what happened. She had picked up her twins from school and driven west on US-50, stopping and then proceeding through the four-way stop at US-83. One mile west, she was going to turn south on VFW Road to get to her home at VFW and Mary St. Oncoming traffic prevented that so she stopped in the westbound lane to make her left turn after traffic cleared. Looking in the rear view mirror, she saw a car approaching at highway speed. At the last second, the driver, a young lady who had chosen to tune the radio rather than look down the road for stopped three-quarter-ton vans, swerved to the left, just grazing the corner of the van, crossed the eastbound lane without hitting anything and ended up stopped in the south ditch. “How could KDOT let this happen?!”
We talked about choices. The choice to utilize US-50 for this trip rather than lower speed local streets: “Quicker.” The choice to continue west on US-50 at the four-way stop rather than making a left turn at a controlled intersection: “That would put me on Taylor Ave., not VFW where I live.” The choice to turn left from US-50 to VFW to go south to Mary St. rather than a right turn at a stoplight from Taylor Ave. to Mary St. if she had made the left at the four-way stop: “Easier and quicker.” Then my question: So you chose the easier and quicker route over your own safety and the safety of your children... silence followed by a dial tone. This lady eventually became my son’s mother-in-law and has now forgiven me for such an impertinent question.
 I believe that life is all about choices. I choose to put on the seat belt and suffer the rumpled clothing and loss of comfort to reduce my chance of injury should there be an accident. I choose my driving route to reduce the potential for left turns. I try hard to never have to stop in the through lane of any highway, let alone US-50. I do these things because I have a choice. I do them because I believe we all need to make smart choices to increase our personal safety and reduce the chances that there will be that one more fatality today.
What do you believe?

Larry Thompson is the District Six Engineer for KDOT.

This year's new traffic laws

by Tim McCool
Hi, I’m Technical Trooper Tim McCool, with the Kansas Highway Patrol. I’m the Public Resource Officer for Troop B, in Topeka. I’m here today to tell you about several new laws that our Kansas Legislature passed in their last session.
The first one is the “Stay to the Right” law, or for those of us that spend a lot of time on our highway system, the “Don’t Linger in the Left Lane” law. And for those of us that have been around for a while it should be somewhat familiar. We had this one on the books at one time but it went by the wayside several decades back. It goes something like this:
Drivers should not travel in the far left lane of traffic, unless:
•Actively, overtaking and passing another vehicle
• Preparing to make a proper left turn (Several miles before your turn doesn’t qualify!)
• Directed to by official traffic control devices or emergency personnel
• Or otherwise required by other provisions of the law.
This works on all multi-lane roadways in our state, unless you are within the city limits of a city and then it is set aside because of the increased traffic volume and movement of vehicles. This went into effect on July 1 this year, but because we are in an education period for the first year, law enforcement officers are just warning motorists until July 1, 2010.
The second law I would like to tell you about deals with motor vehicle collisions, more specifically the “Minor Fender Bender.” This law also went into effect on July 1 this year. If you have a non-injury crash on any interstate highway, U.S. highway, or any multi-lane or divided highway and are NOT transporting any hazardous materials, then drivers are required to make all reasonable efforts to move their vehicles off the roadway. Why did this law come about? Because of the secondary collisions caused by people leaving their vehicles in the roadway and the traffic control problems associated with those situations.
So when do you call law enforcement?
• When there are any injuries
 •When the vehicles are disabled and can’t be moved without damaging the roadway
• When one of the drivers seems intoxicated
• When the damage exceeds $1,000 (and nowadays that’s only a scratch!)
• When one of the drivers has no proof of insurance
• When one of the drivers leaves the scene
 Get the picture? if it doesn’t feel right, call us. If it’s only minor then exchange information:
• Name
• Address
• Driver’s License number
• Telephone number
• Vehicle license number
• Vehicle description (make, model, year of vehicle)
• Insurance information
• Names and contact information of any witnesses
 Again, this went into effect on July 1 of this year but because we are in an education period for the first year, law enforcement officers are just warning motorists until July 1, 2010.
Happy Trails Campers,

Tim McCool is a Public Resource Officer for the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Graduated Drivers Licensing

by Norraine Wingfield
They probably don’t want to hear it and they may not believe it, but the fact remains teen drivers are some of the most dangerous drivers on the road. It is a fact: Teens are disproportionately represented in both crashes and fatalities despite the fact they drive less than all other groups in the U.S., other than our oldest drivers. The crash rate per mile driven for teens is four times that of older drivers. The younger and less experienced the driver, the greater their risk of crashing.
 In Kansas, teen drivers (age 15-19) were involved in 15,478 traffic crashes in 2008, which resulted in 51 fatalities across the state. Teens of that age group were also speeding in more crashes than any other group and sadly enough, these minors were involved in 397 alcohol-related incidents resulting in 13 fatalities.
So what’s the real problem? Well, it is inexperience coupled with reckless behavior. A teen driver’s lack of experience equates to a lack of skills on the road, and unfortunately teens are more likely to be distracted, to speed and too often make poor decisions regarding driving under the influence.
 The solution isn’t keeping teens off the road. Teen drivers, like all drivers, need to gain experience to better their skills. But what we can do is support and enforce graduated licensing systems designed to help teens become better drivers.
Kansas passed a graduated driver’s licensing law in 2009 which will go into effect on January 1, 2010. This law essentially provides three stages of licensing: a learner’s period, a restricted period and a full license sans restrictions.
 The restrictions provided under different stages of this law require supervised driving, limit the number of passengers, limit where teens may drive and when they may drive, and prohibit the use of wireless communication devices. Teens must also wear a seat belt at all times, as provided in the Safety Belt Use Act already in effect.
We hope this new system will prevent needless crashes, injuries and deaths on Kansas roadways. Evaluations of graduated licensing in other states have consistently shown these practices reduce the risk of crashes. We owe it to our teens to do everything in our power to keep them safe while letting them live. If we don’t, they may not.

Norraine Wingfield is the Program Director for the Kansas Traffic Safety Resource Office.

Why teaching train safety is so important to me

By Kristin Brands
In 2007, I became a certified Operation Lifesaver (OL) volunteer. Kansas OL Executive Director Darlene Osterhaus encouraged me to do so, saying northwest Kansas needed more representatives to pass along the organization’s message Operation Lifesaver encourages pedestrians and drivers alike to be aware of at-grade railroad crossings, and utilize safety precautions near train tracks. OL volunteers reach out to adult drivers, professional drivers, school bus drivers, law enforcement personnel, and school-aged children. One of the many key OL messages is “Look, Listen, and Live!”
In 2007, my son Foster was three years old. His entire world then (and still does) revolved around trains. It all started with the lovable character of Thomas the Tank Engine, the character created by Rev. Wilbert Awdry in 1945. But Foster‘s fascination with trains quickly graduated from those toy trains and tracks strewn about our living room floor to the “real deal.” An austere train whistle always meant a dash to the car in search of whether or not the oncoming train was barreling down one of two sets of tracks near our small town of Almena: the Kyle Railroad or the NCK Railway Through the window of the vehicle, Foster and I would sit and watch those massive beasts pass by, my son’s eyes as big as those rail cars’ wheels.
What I didn‘t know then is that being in awe of those huge rail cars comes with a firm set of responsibilities. Being on or near any set of tracks is considered trespassing on the railroad’s private property. More importantly, being near those train tracks is just not safe. Thus the simple message to school children when talking about being near a set of railroad tracks is “Stay Off, Stay Away, Stay Alive!”
There is so much information to pass along to school kids under the OL railroad safety message. Children are especially drawn to the two OL mascots, Sly Fox and Birdie. When doing the OL presentation for Foster‘s class (now an annual tradition) he helps me with the giant set of visuals. He takes pride in the fact that “Mom knows cool stuff about trains,” and can now share those tidbits with his classmates. While it is cool to stay away from train racks, it is not cool to throw things at trains or place items such as coins on the tracks. And isn‘t this a cool fact? It takes roughly 5,280 feet for the average, fully loaded freight train to completely stop--the length of 18 football fields. Also not cool: a train CANNOT swerve to avoid hitting a car or pedestrian: That is why it is up to us to avoid their path of travel
Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit group of volunteers who present the railroad safety message in all 50 states. If passing their message along can help save even one life--including my son’s--well, that is definitely cool!
Go to www.oli.org for more cool train safety facts; or find out how you too can become an OL volunteer.

Kristin Brands is a Public Affairs Manager for KDOT.

Dangerous when wet: Cruise control

By Steve Rust
The owner’s manual of nearly every car and truck contains a warning something like this: Don’t use cruise control in the rain, snow, ice, steep and winding roads, or in heavy traffic.
The reason is simple. Cruise control is intended to maintain a steady speed in normal conditions. And those aren‘t normal conditions; they’re times a driver needs to be their most attentive.
Using cruise control on wet roads is dangerous because it may delay your reaction to an unsafe situation--puddles, an object in the road. With just fractions of a second to keep control, you may not be able to turn off the cruise and safely slow. Even worse, you may jam on the brake pedal, lock up the wheels and lose control.
Hydroplaning occurs when water in front of tires builds up faster than the car’s can push it out of the way. The car rises up and slides on a thin layer of water; the car literally leaves the road.
To avoid hydroplaning:
● Slow down in wet conditions, and, again, don’t use cruise.
● Steer clear of puddles; avoid outer lanes where water accumulates.
● Keep tires properly inflated.
● Replace worn tires .
 If you do hydroplane:
● Do not brake hard when needing to stop, as the wheels may lock.
● If you do skid, ease off gas and steer in direction you want to go. If you have anti-lock brakes, brake normally as you skid. If you don‘t have ABS, avoid using the brakes but if you must, pump them lightly.
(Sources: National Safety Council, safemotorist.com, AAA New York)

Steve Rust is the Safety Coordinator for the Kansas Turnpike Authority. 

Stay Off! Stay Away! Stay Alive!

By Darlene Osterhaus
Each day when people drive to work, most don’t think to themselves, ”I hope I don’t kill someone today!” Locomotive engineers have to think that every working day Someplace in the United States approximately every 2 hours a collision occurs between a train and a vehicle, or a train and a pedestrian.
Some engineers are not able to handle the images and memories of what happened during these events and depart their railroad careers The media, of course, always tells the story about the person injured or killed What about the train crew? They must live forever with the harsh memories of a situation they had no control over.
I know a locomotive engineer that has worked for years for a railroad and has had several collisions with cars, trucks, a farm tractor, and a pedestrian All but one was a fatality He became involved with Operation Lifesaver (OL) to educate the public on the dangers of being around trains--the railroad’s private property He states, “The more incidents we can be prevented, the safer your communities will be, and at the same time reduce the tragic memories for my fellow co-workers.”
Imagine yourself in the engineer’s seat--you apply the brakes to keep from hitting someone or something--your heart skips a beat--it takes your breath away! Imagine that this drags out for more than a mile--can you hold your breath that long?
You hope for the best but expect the worst The train stops and you walk back to that location You never forget every sense that went through your mind You recall details of each collision as you travel the same tracks on your route.
There are incidents where trains and vehicles collide and the driver or passengers manage to survive. Those individuals have one common factor: They were all wearing seatbelts, children were in car seats, air bags deployed, and it was not a direct impact from the train The majority of railroad incidents are preventable if you are simply more aware of your surroundings You are 20 times more likely to die in a collision with a train than one involving another motor vehicle.
The biggest factor in the devastation of the collision is the weight of the train, not the speed Remember, comparing a train to a car is the same as comparing your car to a soda pop can; both pairs exhibit the same weight ratio of 4,000 to 1. Imagine an average college football player standing in the middle of the street and trying to tackle a dump truck. All locomotive engineers desire that you never meet “by accident.”
Please don’t become a statistic. In 2008, Kansas Operation Lifesaver statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration (www.fra.dot.gov) were:
Crossing Crashes: 44 crashes, 9 fatalities, 14 injuries
Trespass Incidents: 13 incidents, 4 fatalities, and 9 injuries
 A total of 13 people died, changing the lives of family and friends forever They are all missed.
Operation Lifesaver (www.oli.org) is a nonprofit, public education and outreach organization dedicated to eliminating death and injury at railroad crossings and rights-of-way. Being a safe driver is common sense (www.commonsenseuseit.com). The Kansas Operation Lifesaver presenters give FREE presentations to any age group; to schedule, call (785) 296-7121 or email: Darlene@ksdot.org. Remember that “Any Time Is Train Time!” so “Always Expect A Train!”

Darlene Osterhaus is the Executive Director for Kansas Operation Lifesaver, Inc. 

On July 4th, 2008 our family of 11 was struck by a drunk driver as we headed home from a fun-filled evening at the Star-lite Drive-In

by Jamie Wohlgemuth
Our family is a bit unique because we have nine children ranging from age ten to five. Our children have come to our family both the old fashioned way and through the miracle of adoption. They are undoubtedly precious gifts from God that we cherish dearly.
At the drive-in, I clearly remember the children's excitement about watching fireworks in the distant night sky. We snuggled with one another on the air mattresses we brought and were pretty gooey from the many bags of cotton candy that were devoured. Giggles, snuggles, sticky kisses....what more could a Mom ask for? Of course, many of the children fell asleep and had to be tucked into their seats by their Dad. As always, we made sure everyone was secure in their car seat or seat belt--a decision that ultimately saved all nine of their little lives.
As we were driving home on K-42, a full-sized pickup pulled out in front of us and turned into us hitting us head-on. The impact was like nothing I've ever felt before I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move. The pain was excruciating. Then I could hear my children screaming.
I cannot begin to describe the terror of that moment, not knowing what I would find when I eventually forced myself to turn around. Trey had a broken nose and blood was everywhere. AubreyAnna was screaming because her back hurt. Most of the children were stunned by the impact and in shock from the trauma. Fortunately for us, God sent angels in the form of off-duty EMT's who were there immediately as the crash took place.
 The police and ambulances arrived quickly and began the arduous task of removing each child from the mangled SUV. Watching as my family was lined up on spine boards along the highway is seared into my memory. An officer was amazed that there were no fatalities that night. He credited this to the fact that safety belts and carseats were properly used. The driver of the truck, we later discovered, was not wearing his seat belt and was ejected from his vehicle. He lost an arm and suffered severe injuries.
Although we incurred some serious injuries from this incident and are still, more than a year later, dealing with the physical ramifications of someone else's decision to drive drunk, we are all here to support one another through it. I cannot and will not think of the alternative outcome had we all not been properly secured in the vehicle. My family is whole and wholeheartedly encourages others to please buckle-up and drive responsibly.

Jamie Wohlgemuth and her family reside in Milton.

My wife’s niece, Kelsey, lost her life in a car accident three years ago this May

by Scott Uhl
She was 14 and finishing her freshman year at Olathe North High School and asked to go for a ride with a couple of friends. Her parents reluctantly agreed fearing for her general safety with an unknown driver but wanting to give her the freedom all teenagers crave. Her father talked to the driver and told him to deliver his daughter safely back home. He agreed and away they went.
Thirty minutes later the lights flashed at home; unknown to the family, the electric disruption was caused by the impact of the boy’s SUV hitting a power pole one mile from Kelsey’s home. The driver and the front seat passenger walked away from the accident with minor injuries. However, Kelsey was not wearing her seatbelt and was tossed around in the back of the SUV.
Kelsey died at the scene still in the vehicle. Maybe Kelsey wanted to be more involved with the conversation and was leaning on the back of the front seat to better hear the conversation. We will never know why Kelsey chose not to put on her seatbelt as she normally did. There is not a day that goes by that her parents don’t reflect on Kelsey and how much they miss her.
Obviously Kelsey’s family and friends instinctively wear their seatbelts because they’ve developed good habits, are required by their job, or are acutely aware of what could happen if they don't wear one. However, our society, as a whole, doesn’t have these incentives. How do we encourage a change so the majority instinctively put on their seatbelts so they don’t have to go through a traumatic loss of a family member to learn this important lesson?
I’ve noticed one built-in feature in newer vehicles that works for those who still do not wear their seatbelts. This simple but effective mechanism is the automatic alarm when seatbelts are not worn. It reminds me often.
Buckle up and drive careful. We have loved ones at home who want to see us tonight.

Scott Uhl is the Topeka chapter director for the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers

Texting and driving is a lethal combination

“The fault, dear drivers, is not in our stars, but in ourselves...”
by David Greiser
Between 4,000 and 8,000 crashes related to distracted driving occur daily in the United States, according to the American Automobile Association. Cell phone use is the fastest growing form of distraction. Research shows that dialing a cell phone and using or reaching for an electronic device while driving increases the risk of collision about six times. In the moments before a crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices, enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field. In July of this year the New York Times published NHTSA data (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/technology/21distracted.html) showing that highway safety researchers estimated that cell phone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents in 2002 (http://documents.nytimes.com/documents-from-the-u-s-department-of-transportation-s-national-highway-traffic-safety-administration#p=1).
Texting is the most distracting activity for drivers using cell phones. Texting while driving is the act of sending or reading text messages or email while operating a motor vehicle. Study results published by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/story.php?relyear=2009&itemno=571) found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting. The risk for drivers of cars and small trucks will be released later this year but is expected to be similar. The Institute reported that driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, with nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involving some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. The portion of those texting is unknown but significant.
It’s even worse for teens, our least experienced drivers. A study by AAA reports (http://www.aaanewsroom.net/Main/Default.asp?CategoryID=7&ArticleID=554) that an alarming 46 percent of teens admitted to being distracted while driving due to texting. Combine this information with the fact that vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those under the age of 34 in Kansas and it becomes clear that teens texting while driving is a lethal cocktail.
Car and Driver magazine conducted a recent experiment showed that texting while driving had a greater impact on safety than driving drunk. According to Car and Driver (http://www.caranddriver.com/features/09q2/texting_while_driving_how_dangerous_is_it_-feature), “While reading a text and driving at 35 mph, Editor Eddie Alterman’s average baseline reaction time of 0.57 second nearly tripled, to 1.44 seconds. While texting, his response time was 1.36 seconds. These figures correspond to an extra 45 and 41 feet, respectively, before hitting the brakes. His reaction time after drinking averaged 0.64 second and, by comparison, added only seven feet. The results at 70 mph were similar: Alterman’s response time while reading a text was 0.35 second longer than his base performance of 0.56 second, and writing a text added 0.68 second to his reaction time. But his intoxicated number increased only 0.04 second over the base score, to a total of 0.60 second.”
The public correctly views drinking and driving as wrong. But when it comes to texting and driving, we are not as outraged. How many more accidents and deaths will it take to change that attitude?
Fourteen states have already passed laws prohibiting texting while driving (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/29/technology/29distracted.html). It is time for the other 36 to do the same.

David Greiser is a Public Affairs Manager with KDOT.

DRIVESHARP and senior drivers

by Jim Hanni
Today, those over 65 represent under 10 percent of the U.S. population, but by 2030 they will account for 20 percent.
One of the concerns about senior driving is that as we age, the “useful field of view,” the area over which we can extract information in a single glance, shrinks. For a driver watching the road ahead, this ability might mean noticing a child running into the street after a ball or seeing another car that’s trying to merge into your lane.
It also becomes more difficult to handle distractions and divided attention. If we can improve our divided attention, we should be able to do a better job of tracking multiple moving objects at once, such as cars at a busy intersection or people crossing a street.
These cognitive abilities are vital to safe driving and can help drivers
● notice potential hazards ahead of time
● protect themselves and their passengers by reacting quicker to hazards
● and maintain their overall driving skills and independence.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has been working with a company called PositScience, the leading provider of clinically validated brain fitness programs in the U.S. to develop DRIVESHARP, a computer software tool which focuses on the visual systems in the brain essential to safe driving.
Studies show conclusively now that people who use the exercises in DRIVESHARP experience many driving benefits which help to:
● Cut your risk of a car crash by up to 50 percent
● Increase the useful field of view by up to 200 percent
● Reduce stopping distance by up to 22 feet at 55 mph
● Increase confidence while driving at night and in congested traffic
Copies of the software have been donated to the East Topeka Senior Center and Senior Services of Wichita. Another copy has been donated to the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library for demonstration purposes. These were provided so that regardless of income or not having a computer, there will be a place to go where senior drivers can take the exercise challenge and improve their ability to drive safely longer.
The exercises are to be conducted for 20 minutes a day, three times a week, for ten weeks. AAA members can acquire DRIVESHARP for $99 by visiting www.drivesharpnow.com/allied. The non-AAA member price is $129, but for remainder of this week non-members can acquire a copy for $99, too, by visiting www.aaafoundation.org.

Jim Hanni is the executive vice president of public and government affairs for AAA Kansas.