By Tod Hileman
Err...wait a minute, 33,963 deaths is pushing record lows? Sure seems like a lot of people dying on the highways! If I multiply that number by the number of years I have left in my Highway Patrol career, that would be, ummm, let’s see, 4 times 9, carry the 7, no wait? Man, why am I so bad with simple math? Wasn’t Einstein bad with simple math too? I think he was, which means deep down, I could be as smart as him right! With all joking aside, that’s a lot of people needlessly dying on our nation’s highways.
I was going to entitle this blog, <i>How Not to Die While Driving through Kansas</i>, because I was inspired by an Ohio couple I was privileged to meet a couple of weeks ago. They were traveling east on I-70 by Colby when their tire blew out at 70 miles per hour. After 18 years in law enforcement and having to clean up the carnage when people are ejected from a vehicle, I was expecting the worst as I drove to the scene.
When I arrived, it looked like the normal scene, skid marks leading into the median, glass debris, car lying on its top completely intact, witness stating what a violent crash it was, driver and passenger standing by my partner’s car giving their statement...; Wait a minute, that’s not normal? Why aren’t the EMT’s putting people on stretchers, waiting for Flight for Life while they tell them to just hold on? Something very wrong was going on here and I had to find out.
To solve this mystery we have to look at all the factors involved with traffic safety. Road design is one of the big ones. Did I mention Kansas was voted best roads in the nation? Our roads are mostly straight and flat with a clear line of sight ahead of you. Car design is another big one. Vehicles today are so much safer than they were 20 years ago with all the safety features built into them these days, like airbags, traction control, steering assist, tire pressure monitors, etc.
So what is the common factor in traffic fatalities here in Kansas? To find that out, let’s go back to 2004. In that year, unbuckled people accounted for roughly 75% of our state’s fatalities. Hmmm, that’s a pretty big number!
Ok, back to the alive and well Ohio couple. As I was driving them into Colby to get them a hotel room, they thanked me for taking them there. We talked about the crash and how their seatbelts held them in place-- ah-ha, mystery solved! I then thanked them for wearing their seatbelts because it was a lot easier for me to drive them a few miles than having to contact family members and tell them some really bad news (worst part of my job).
I should get to the point of this blog. Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day is coming up on October 10 and is there to remind us that even though we are having record lows in traffic fatalities, one is too many.
So do me, my partners, society and everyone who loves you a favor, put on your seatbelt. You don’t have to be Einstein to know you’re much safer with it on. Oh, and your kids learn from you and someday they will drive off alone for the first time, so what did you teach them?

Tod Hileman is a Technical Trooper for the Kansas Highway Patrol in Hays.

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