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.