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.