Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day 2012

By Ray LaHood
Each year on October 10, a nationwide network of road safety partners celebrates "Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day" to raise awareness about the causes of highway crashes. This year marks the 11th anniversary of this effort, and I am proud to add my voice to the many safety messages here on the Kansas Department of Transportation's Put the Brakes on Fatalities blog page.
At the US DOT, we have thousands of professionals working every day to improve road safety. Whether it’s our five-star crash test ratings or our use of innovative technology to help drivers avoid accidents altogether, safety is the most important thing we do.
But all of our technological advances alone are not enough to move us toward zero highway fatalities. We need America's motorists to help. We need them to hear safety messages like the entries on this Kansas DOT blog page, and we need them to follow up by driving safely.
Since September 13, each first-person account in this important series has made a valuable point about what everyday drivers and passengers can do to keep themselves and others safe. From the opening post by Carlotta Meeker about how wearing her seat belt saved her life in a devastating crash to the recent entry by Holcomb Fire Chief Bill Knight about the importance of approaching an accident site cautiously to avoid harming emergency workers, the stories in this year's "Put the Brakes on Fatalities" series have been both personal and persuasive.
Now, as this month of Put the Brakes on Fatalities blog posts draws to a close, I'm asking everyone who has read any or all of these stories to do two things. First, take them to heart and let them inform the way you drive. If you don't want to drive more consciously and safely for your own sake, do it for your families and for those who share the road with you.
Do it for Courtney Billinger, whose close friend was killed by a drunk driver. Do it for Jeff Romaine, who just wants to protect his fellow road workers from a senseless work-zone crash, or for Trooper Rick Wingate, who writes about arriving at the scene of yet another fatal texting crash.
Then, share these stories with others and urge them to do the same. The Kansas DOT and all of this year's contributors have done a great job. And when we share these stories, we can help them make a bigger difference in road safety...on Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day and every day.
From all of us here at DOT, thanks to everyone who contributed to the 2012 Kansas DOT safety effort. And many thanks to everyone at KDOT for continuing to lead the way toward zero fatalities.

Ray LaHood is the United States Secretary of Transportation

A Series of Wrong Moves

By Steve Rust
In 1973 as a senior in high school, I had it made. I was making $1.10 per hour, gas was 18 to 25 cents a gallon and I lived at home with no bills to pay. Wow, those were the days.
At 18 I knew it all. I wrestled and played football and nothing could hurt me. When something bad happened, it was always to someone else. But not this time. 
That Saturday morning my girlfriend and I went to meet her parents at the lake.  While my car is climbing a hill, traveling 90 mph with me holding her hand, I heard a voice telling me to let go of her hand. But did I obey?  Nope - I was 18, a good driver and indestructible. And, it always happens to someone else.
Well, at the top of the hill was a nearly 90-degree left turn and a vehicle pulling a boat was coming around the turn heading toward me in my lane.  Now even a novice driver understands they need their entire lane to make a 90-degree turn at nearly 90 mph.
An important factor was about to come into play. A few weeks earlier, I put mags on all four wheels with extra wide rear tires.  The rear tires were so wide they rubbed the inside of my fender wells so I added Monroe air shocks to raise the back end.  When you raise the rear of the car, much of the weight is redistributed from the rear to the front giving you little-to no traction in the rear, which will cause your vehicle to fishtail while making sharp turns at high rates of speed.
Unfortunately, I did not know this until I started to turn to the left and began a rapid fishtail with the rear of my car sliding to the right.  Remember, we were climbing a hill, so to my right was a 50-foot drop. So, I turned the steering wheel to the left as fast as I could and over-corrected heading straight into the hill on the left side of the road.  I turned the steering wheel as fast as I could back to the right avoiding hitting the hill head on, but now we were traveling along the side of a hill that was steeper than 45 degrees. So we rolled over a couple times until my front bumper dug into the asphalt and caused my car to flip end over end a few times, landing on its wheels. 
We hit the road with so much force, my left front Mag was broken and embedded four inches into the asphalt.  I also had installed an 8-track (yes an 8-track) and four walnut-boxed speakers - two behind the back seat and two under the front seats.  The speaker under the driver’s seat struck my face breaking my nose and cutting a vein under my left eye so every time my heart pumped, blood pumped out. 
I am happy to say my girlfriend and I both survived.  After our insurance adjuster looked at the car, he said it was a one in 4.8 million crash that both of us survived.
For the last 12 years, I have taught National Safety Council Defensive Driving Courses and I often discuss my crash to point out it wasn't one thing that I did wrong:  it was a series of wrong moves. Don't alter your vehicle, don't speed, pay attention to your driving and, most importantly, KEEP trying to regain control of your car.  Of all the wrong moves I made, trying to regain control was one thing that saved our lives.
Steve Rust is a Safety Coordinator with the Kansas Turnpike Authority

Tough, dangerous job

By Bill Knight
Kansas highway workers, law enforcement, fire and EMS workers face danger every day on the roads. 
On a cold icy night a few years back, the dangers of working on a busy roadway came all too close-to-home for me.  The volunteer fire department I am a member of was called to an injury accident just outside the entrance to a facility in the county.  A passenger vehicle had failed to negotiate a right angle turn into the facility and had struck a semi truck and trailer that was leaving.  The car impacted the truck and a small amount of diesel was leaking onto the roadway.  No one was injured; however, the spilling fuel, the extremely slick road conditions and a large amount of traffic moving in and out of the facility at a shift change created a very dangerous situation.
We assisted the Sheriff’s Department with traffic control. The scene was very well lit by work lights and street lights near the intersection, and we were in full gear with flashlights or traffic wands to be easily seen. Once the shift change traffic began to slow, work began to move the damaged vehicles from the roadway—not an easy task that turned with the icy roadway.
I was standing on the road holding groups of cars while another firefighter would release oncoming groups on the one open lane of traffic.  The group I was holding had just cleared my location so I stepped back into the roadway to stop a vehicle that was about a mile up the road.  After a few seconds it became very evident that the oncoming car was moving at a quick pace so I began to wave the lighted traffic wand to direct them to stop. 

A very close call

The car appeared at first to obey the warning to stop, then began to move into the left hand lane to go around me.  I headed for the side of the road - helmet going in one direction, flashlight in another. With the ice making standing, let alone running, nearly impossible, I spun a few pirouettes that would have made any ballerina proud.  Was it a close call?  Her passenger side mirror hit the traffic wand in my hand!
The individual in the vehicle drove past me, through the accident scene, around a tow truck, past a deputy that tried to stop her, past the other firefighter on the other side of the accident and stopped only after arriving at the security gate before the parking lot of the business.  The deputy that had witnessed the entire scene ran to the gate and asked security to hold the driver.
The vehicle was occupied by a single, middle aged woman, who, upon questioning by the deputy, said she saw the accident, understood we were trying to get her to stop. However, as she put it, she had been warned by her supervisor earlier in the week about her being late for work, and that she faced “getting in trouble” if she was late again.
Granted, as a firefighter, I don’t have cause to work on an open road way on a daily basis as law enforcement and state highway workers do. But I can assure you that the simple act of slowing down and moving to the left to allow those who are working on a road you are driving on really makes a difference.  These individuals have a tough, dangerous job.  Anything we can do as drivers to make it safer for them is incredibly important to them and to their families.
Bill Knight is the Fire Chief in Holcomb

Distracted Driving can be Deadly

By Rick Wingate
The Kansas Highway Patrol has seen an increase in distracted driving over the past couple of years. There are several things people do while driving that cause distractions -  cell phones, car stereos, GPS devices, passengers, and pets are a few examples. One of the biggest distractions has been cell phones.  People use their cell phones for talking, texting, GPS and other activities while driving. 
I have witnessed firsthand the devastation and trauma texting while driving can cause.  A couple years ago, I was dispatched to a two-vehicle crash. At the crash scene, the driver of the vehicle northbound was killed and the driver of the vehicle southbound was killed. The passenger in the southbound vehicle was wearing a seat belt and was treated and released from a local hospital.  During the investigation, it was determined that the driver of the northbound vehicle crossed the center line. I found a cell phone in the northbound vehicle. The cell phone showed the driver was sending and receiving text messages at the time of the crash.
As an instructor for defensive driving courses we always tell people “There isn’t any text message worth it.”
Distracted driving is any activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving. The experts say there are 3 categories: visual - taking your eyes off the road; manual - taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive - taking your mind off what you are doing.
The length of a football field
Statistics show that five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field. Would you put a blindfold on while driving 55mph down the highway?! And a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into an accident than a non-texting driver.
Here are some tips for managing common distractions.
sTurn your phone off or put it on silent.
sPull over to talk or text. And remember, texting while driving is against the law in Kansas.
sUse passengers. Let them make the calls or text messages.
sSecure your pets. Pets on your lap while driving is a big distraction.
sKeep kids safe. Pull over to address situations with your children.
sFocus on driving. Refrain from smoking, eating, drinking, reading and any activity that take your mind and eyes off the road.
No one intends to get into a car, get into a collision and hurt somebody, but they will voluntarily engage in activities that do increase the crash risk.
Bottom line - if you get a phone call, text message, or need to do any other task that would take your attention away from driving, pull over.
Rick Wingate is a Technical Trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol in Chanute


Starting Over Again

By Nancy Nowick-Kauk
I don't remember Memorial Day 2006, but it's a day I will never forget. My husband John and I were riding in the Cottonwood 200 – an organized bicycle ride from Topeka to Cottonwood Falls and back – over the Memorial Day weekend. On the last day of the ride we were struck by an inattentive driver in a pickup truck going 60 mph.
John sustained a broken hip and broken left arm and wrist that required two surgeries. I was knocked out with a fractured neck vertebrae, multiple breaks in my left arm, broken pelvis, fractured ribs, fractured tibia, a lacerated spleen and severe internal bleeding. I was in a coma for nine days. One of those days was our first wedding anniversary.
We both felt like we were starting our lives over again in 2004 when we met each other and fell in love. Since the accident, we've started over again in a much different way.
I've had extensive rehabilitation in the hospital and as an outpatient for occupational and physical therapy. I relearned how to feed, wash and dress myself. I learned how to do things around the house again. John was doing everything I couldn't do.
I've learned to walk again but sometimes need help walking up or down stairs, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Reading and writing have been much more difficult. I have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that has affected my balance, coordination, fine motor skills and eyesight. Everything I do is slower. My TBI also affects my energy level and I fatigue easily. For the past six years I have been in different therapies to get better like neurofeedback, osteopathic manipulation, yoga, ai chi, vision therapy and massage. They have been extremely beneficial.
Every day I wake up and wonder what I will be able to do so I can live my normal life. Before the accident I was a writer and editor. In fact, I had planned to write about our bike ride for KANSAS! magazine, which I had been editing. Because of the damage to my left arm and my eyesight, I don't type well. I use dictation now, but it isn't always accurate. Very frustrating for an editor. My work now is doing everything I can to get better.
This blog is the first thing I have written since the accident. It's difficult to express everything my family and I have been through. It’s hard for me to imagine because I am still piecing together what happened to me. I don't drive anymore and I can't ride a bike.
Bicyclists have the right to ride in a lane, but John and I always rode in the shoulder of the road if we could, trying to be as careful as possible, thinking that motorists would pass us by safely. That didn’t work for us, but if motorists pay attention, maybe it will for the next cyclist.
Nancy Nowick-Kauk is a resident in Topeka

You Only Live Once

By Richelle Rumford
As an Emergency Department nurse I have always felt that I am prepared for anything and everything that could come through the doors. In fact, the uncertainty of every day is what I love most about emergency medicine. Education, training and experience have all prepared me to take care of critically ill and injured patients with no hesitation.  However, over the years I have always struggled with what I feel is the most difficult part of my job. I have never been able to prepare myself for witnessing the grief families experience when someone they love is killed in an accident.
Words never seem to come out right - we try to comfort families any way that we can, but nothing seems to ease their pain. The faces of those family members will stay with me throughout my lifetime; I can remember most of them by name. Parents who lose their children, children who lose their parents and spouses that have spent 25 years or more by each other’s side suddenly become separated by death. Traumatic death is often quick, with few details and little explanation; the haunting question of “why” is never answered.
I am so proud to be a part of the Stormont-Vail Trauma Team and I am amazed each day at the life-saving care we provide to our patients.  However, even the very best emergency medical providers, doctors and nurses in the world can sometimes not undo the damage caused by motor vehicle, motorcycle or other accidents. That is why prevention is so important. Wear your seat belt, follow traffic laws, avoid distractions while driving and never operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Teach your children to be safe drivers and remember that they learn from watching you.

Take those extra steps

Being safe is so easy to forget or to take for granted. In such a fast paced world it is tempting to use those extra minutes in the car to make phone calls, send a message or to go just “a little” over the speed limit. Each decision we make can have unforeseen consequences that will not only impact you but also those who love and care for you. 
Each time you get behind the wheel please take a moment to think about all the lives your actions will impact and make the decision to practice safety. I chose to be safe for my family, friends, others on the road and for myself.
Stormont-Vail Trauma Services is hosting YOLO: Teen Injury Prevention Expo on October 10th from 5-7 p.m. at Hummer Sports Park in Topeka.
This event is free and open to teens and parents who want to learn about injury prevention. Come out and enjoy music, food and games and most importantly learn ways to practice safety every day because You Only Live Once!
Richelle Rumford, RN MSN, is a Trauma Program Manager and Prevention Coordinator at Stormont-Vail HealthCare 

Orange Outline

By Courtney Billinger
I was coming home on a Friday night from Bethany College and I was headed to get on interstate.  Before I hit the ramps for the interstate, there was a huge blockade of police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks.  There was a police officer saying there was an accident up ahead and that the highway would be shut down for at least another hour. 
So, I proceeded to turn around and take back roads to get back to Salina for the weekend.  I did not find out till Sunday night when I received a phone call from my mother that a good friend of ours, Brad, had been killed in an accident. I asked her where it was at and she said in between Lindsborg and Bridgeport (town on the other side of the interstate heading east). 
I realized that the accident I had seen was Brad’s accident.  What had happened was Brad had gone into Lindsborg on his motorcycle and on his return trip home, a man with his daughter in the car crossed the center line and hit Brad head on. He was killed right on the spot. The driver was charged with DUI. 
It was a lot for my mom to take in because Brad was her best friend from high school and a huge family friend.  Still to the day, you can see the bright orange outline of where Brad’s motorcycle laid lifeless on the side of the road along with two crosses and some flowers.
Courtney Billinger is a student at Bethany College


A Winning Game Plan

By Bruce Weber
If players and coaches are not 100% focused on what they are doing, they make mistakes that can cost us the game. They can’t even be distracted by thoughts of what they did five minutes ago, or by thoughts of next week’s big game. They have to focus totally on what is happening on the court right this instant, and they have to be thinking about what they will do if “this” player makes “that” move.

In the same way, drivers must be totally focused on the road in front of them. They can’t be thinking about their cell phones, dipping their fries in ketchup, putting on make-up, or daydreaming about the new girl in history class. They have to concentrate on the other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists as well as road and weather conditions. They have to think about things such as what they will do if the car coming towards them suddenly veers into their lane. If they are not 100% focused on their driving, they may make mistakes that could cost them in the game of life.

Those costly errors have an effect not only on the drivers, but also on everyone else involved in their lives. Family, friends, and co-workers are all taken out of their game when they are dealing with fixing a car, making visits to the hospital, or planning a funeral. The ripple effect from one mistake can go on for years, and can easily mess up a winning game plan.

Please, do yourself and everyone else a favor: Stay focused on your driving! Put down the phone, the fries, the make-up, and the daydreams, and just DRIVE.

Bruce Weber is the Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Kansas State University


Room to Live

Investigative reporter Trish Van Pilsum at Fox 9 TV station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says, "At first, it's eerie to climb into a car in which someone has died. But then I realized they didn't actually die here, but in the ditch...or on the road. If they'd stayed here, they might not be dead at all."

Watch this powerful and heart-wrenching video news story from April 2010 and see why she calls this story "Room to Live."
Click here to view the video.

It Could Have Been Terrible

By Jeff Romine
I have done maintenance work on the highways for KDOT for more than 29 years. I have been in and seen many accidents and injuries in my time here, but one day in particular stands out.
It started out like any other typical June day, but it would soon be a day I would always remember. I gave out job assignments that morning, like normal.  One of them was to my Equipment Operator Specialist who I sent to assist the Bridge Inspection crew from the district office on an inspection project. 
About three hours later, I received a call about a KDOT truck involved in an accident.  It was only about a five-mile to drive to accident scene, but it was a long five miles.  I didn’t know if anybody had been hurt or killed, or who was involved.

When I finally got there

I realized this was where the inspection crew and my EO Specialist were working. I pulled up and I noticed the bridge inspection truck and a motorist’s vehicle on its side with somebody in it. But I didn’t see my person or his vehicle, and my heart missed a beat or two.  Then I finally saw him - he was down the road providing traffic control.
After talking to everyone involved, I found out that all the KDOT workers were out of their vehicles and under the bridge working when they heard a crash. They saw my EO Specialist’s truck pushed off the road about 100 yards down into the ditch. The truck hit so hard, it pushed trees down in the ditch.
The motorist’s vehicle then hit the inspection crew’s truck, which was parked about 75 feet away. If the workers had been coming up from under the bridge and been near the vehicles, it could have been terrible.
The driver was taken to the hospital and was fine.  He said that he didn’t see the lights going on any of the vehicles.  
Overall, we were very lucky to not have anybody hurt or killed. I would just like to remind everybody – pay attention. If you see lights, slow down, check your surroundings and get over if possible.
Jeff Romine is a KDOT Supervisor in Eskridge

Mentoring Behind the Wheel

By Bill Snyder
Do I complete my chores or just continue to lie around the house?    Homework or Facebook? Should I play X-box or study for that math test tomorrow?  We are just going down the block; do I really need my seat belt?  These are the kind of choices and challenges that our young people face every day. While the answer to some of these choices seems trivial, others can be the difference between life and death. 
Whether we are a parent, guardian, teacher, older sibling or just a friend, we must realize that those younger than us will emulate what we do.  If we are constantly watching TV and avoiding our responsibilities, the people watching us will do the same.  If we get in a vehicle and fail to put on our seat belt, no matter how far we are going, those watching us will likely think that is an acceptable behavior. If we are texting and driving, some might say, “Hey, if they do it, why can’t I?”

Traffic crashes are the number one killer of youngsters in Kansas. 

Every day we are faced with many challenges and choices found behind the wheel. No matter the length of the trip, always wear your seatbelt, and don’t start the vehicle until everyone else is buckled.  Avoid distractions, never text and drive, and pull over to a safe location to make or receive that phone call. Never drink and drive, or ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
By following the rules of the road, you will encourage young people to make the right decisions and show that driving requires full and undivided attention.  You can be a good mentor and have a tremendous influence on the youth of our community and the loved ones in your life.
Bill Snyder is the Kansas State University Head Football Coach

God Was Watching Over Me

By Rachel Tharman
I’ll never truly forget what happened on June 6, 2011. It may have started out like any normal day, but little did I know what was soon to happen. I had planned on going to a friend’s going away parting later that evening, but instead I ended upside down in my car not too far from home.
When I arrived at my friend’s house, I realized that there was going to be a lot of water involved. I didn’t have my swim suit with me, so I decided to head home to grab some clothes and come right back to the party. Only I never quite made it home.
My friend lived on a gravel road, so naturally I was driving in the center to avoid any pot holes and because that’s how people drive on those types of roads. I had seen a truck down the road coming my way, so I was moving over to my side so we could both pass. I hit a soft spot and my car started to fishtail. I over corrected, lost control of my car, started spinning, and then I blacked out.

I woke up a few short minutes later.

My car had flipped, and I was safely inside. I didn’t really know what to think. I did, however, know that I did not wish to stay upside down. So I unbuckled and crawled out of the passenger side window, probably not the smartest idea, but I wasn’t really thinking that I should stay in there and wait for the ambulance. At that point in time I could only think about how my parents were going to kill me and how I wanted to be back with my friends.
It wasn’t until later that I realized what saved my life in that wreck. There were three main possibilities and I believe all to be true. The first was that God decided it was not my time to go. Second was that I had been wearing my seat belt, otherwise I guarantee that I would not be here today. Lastly was my headrest being above my head. When the roof of my car came caving in, my headrest kept it from crushing my neck.
I called my parents and they arrived about 20 minutes later. My dad looked so scared and gave me a huge hug when he saw me. My mom looked like she was about to cry and was real white as she gave me a huge hug as well. They hadn’t known how bad the wreck was, only that I was doing alright and had no need to go to the hospital. I had never seen my parents so frightened in their lives.
At first it was hard to get back behind the wheel, but I didn’t have a choice. Now looking back on the accident, I don’t remember it all too much, and it’s probably for the better. Sure I can tell you what happened and I can go into detail here and there. Sometimes I just can’t believe that it actually happened and it feels like I’m telling a story I heard or read, not something real or anything I had actually experienced. I can’t really say that any of this has affected me all that much emotionally, but what I can say is that it had a great impact on my life.
One of the best things I had gotten out of that wreck was being able to share my story. I was able to talk in front of a few hundred people, even if I was terrified at first. I got to explain how I survived, how it had impacted me, what I could have lost but instead had gained. It felt good to know that I was doing something helpful and educational. Not to mention that afterwards I had people come up to me saying how that story changed them or touched them in some way. For me to do something like that, it’s a feeling I can’t describe. But it is absolutely amazing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Rachel Tharman is a student at Butler County Community College

One wrong decision

By Matt Vogt
When I was asked to participate in this blog, I knew immediately which experience I would talk about. What I did not know was that the next day I would have a second incident in which to share. And that they would occur 12 years and one month to the day of each other. Two, single-vehicle fatality accident cases that could have been prevented had two people made a different choice. And these two cases also share the fact that people both lived and died in these crashes.
In July 2000, I helped investigate a crash on 69th Street between Seneca and Interurban. Five lives specifically were affected this day:  a 14-year-old occupant who had been ejected from the vehicle due to not wearing a seat belt was killed; another occupant that was unconscious and would be in a coma for several weeks due to a severe head injury; and another female occupant who was partially pinned in the vehicle.  Two other occupants walked away from the crash with only minor injuries. 

Deeply affected

In addition to these people, the lives of their families and friends were deeply affected as well because someone lost their life. The choices here are that people did not wear their seatbelts and a vehicle traveling at a speed that was not prudent for the road conditions. Of course at that time, the seat belt laws were not what they are today, but it had been shown how effective they were in saving lives.
My second experience happened just this past August. I responded to another single-vehicle crash in which a driver lost control of his vehicle. He died from his injuries but his passenger survived without any injury. Again, someone again made a choice that not only cost them their own life, but impacted the lives of others. And again there are family and friends that have to grieve over the loss of a loved one.
So the lessons learned in these two cases are simple: Wear your seatbelt and don’t speed.  And, please don’t drink and drive.  I also ask you to take your thoughts one step further: Think of your friends and loved ones who will have to suffer for that one wrong decision.
Sgt. Matt Vogt serves with the police department in Valley Center

Disastrous Results

By Rande Repp
From a scientific perspective, we live in a truly curious four-dimensional world: length, width, depth, and time. When viewed from “outside the box," the chances of anything cohesively existing simultaneously in all four dimensions at any given point is infinitesimally small. The chances of any two cohesive entities attempting to coexist in the same point is even smaller.
However, every year someone attempts to beat the odds. I remember a day during a recent summer when events converged into one such point with disastrous results. Approximately 800 pounds of steel, plastic, rubber, and human flesh attempted to occupy the same space as a separate unit of steel, glass, rubber, and human flesh.
In simple terms, a car made a left turn in front of a motorcycle. The motorcycle was traveling at a sufficiently high speed as to preclude much of an opportunity for turns or evasive maneuvering. The rider was an experienced rider who knew the proper application of emergency threshold braking. However, velocity was greater than friction and without a sufficient amount of time to reduce the velocity, the equation was unbalanced and destined for disaster.

Changing a part of the equation

Any part of the equation probably would not have resulted in tragedy. Riding slower would undoubtedly helped. If the driver of the car had taken a second glance and perceived the truly high speed at which the cycle was approaching, that would have helped. If the cycle had been another few yards forward or backwards of its rendezvous with destiny, things would have turned out differently. If the driver of the car had pulled away from the stop sign at a higher or slower rate of acceleration and/or turn angle, a collision may have been averted or less severe. As it was, the teeth on the key lined up perfectly and the lock opened.
An external observer may have noted that this particular intersection exists for only a brief span of years in the vast tapestry of time. For a majority of this brief span of time the intersection is empty of vehicles; cars pass through in a few seconds while it stands vacant for minutes or hours. The observer may also note the coefficient of friction of the roadway surface, the braking efficiency of the motorcycle, the weight of the car and the cycle, the approach and departure angles of the vehicles, and physical evidence such as impact marks and blood spatter on the pavement.
These observations and measurements may be mathematically analyzed to indicate speed, perception/reaction time, and a host of other scientifically valid information. The crash can be digitally reconstructed to show a frame-by-frame reenactment.
However, no matter how much data is analyzed and how many calculations are performed, the true story can never be electronically conveyed. The depth and breadth of the incident are portrayed by weeping relatives; by an empty seat in a classroom the following semester; by grieving parents who have only fading photographs to remember a son or daughter; by a driver who has to live with the consequences of a mere second of inattention for the rest of a lifetime.
Please, slow down, wear a helmet, pay attention to your surroundings, and drive defensively. Reading a text or winning a cycle race may seem important at the time, but moments later it could be the worst (and last) choice you ever made.
Officer Rande Repp is with the Salina Police Department

Danger on the Tracks

By Scott Krause
Railroads and their employees are concerned for your safety. They want to be a good citizen in your community, but there are things that you can do to reduce the chance that you or someone close to you will be injured or killed by a train.
Please remember that railway tracks are for trains and trains are big and heavy. If you have no reason to be close to the tracks, stay away from them. Recently in Maryland, there was a train derailment - two 19-year-old women were sitting on one side of the railway bridge with their backs to the tracks as the train passed a few feet behind them. Something happened that caused the train to derail. Their bodies were found buried under coal dumped from the train cars.

Expect a train at any time.

Railroad tracks and trains are dangerous places to pose for photographs. This is an unsafe practice. Often by the time the train crew can see you, it is too late to stop.
Be aware of railroad crossings where there are two or more tracks. If a train is stopped on one track and is blocking the view of the next track, it is best to avoid the crossing. Many vehicles are hit by trains because the driver of the vehicle sees that a train is stopped and he assumes it is safe to cross. This is a potential trap.
In places where there are three tracks it is an even higher risk. If flashing lights are on stay off the crossing. Increasingly in communities where residents would like to reduce the noise of train whistles “No Whistle” zones have been put in place. It is very important to be aware of the passing of trains in these areas since they don’t whistle as they did in the past and often pedestrians and motorist are caught off guard and surprised.
Remember safety signals such as flashing lights and gates at crossings are mechanical devices. Failure is very rare but it can happen. Always approach a railroad crossing with care. Turn down the stereo, put down the cell phone and look both ways at a railroad crossing even if the crossing lights and gates are not on.
If your family lives close to a railroad track, please help all members of your family to understand that trains are dangerous and can move at any time. Do not walk or ride in any vehicle next to tracks.
Please remember to use common sense around trains and railroad tracks. Keep yourself at a safe distance and remember it takes a long time for a train to stop.
Scott Krause is a locomotive engineer in Kansas City. He has work in railroad industry for 17 years.



A moment of inattention

By Pat Inman

On June 8, 1986, the KDOT District Three materials crews were doing some asphalt core drilling to determine asphalt thickness, asphalt content, aggregate gradations, etc. I was flagging traffic on the south end of the project located on U.S. 283 approximately 3 miles south of Norton.

The drilling location was in the northbound lane of the road requiring traffic to transition over into the southbound lane, then back after going around the drilling equipment. All traffic control was in place according to the current requirements, including signs, traffic cones, and vehicles with flashing lights.

As traffic approached from the south, I motioned the lead vehicle over into the southbound lane. The driver of the vehicle following behind failed to notice the lane change of the car in front of it and maintained its path in the northbound lane where I was flagging traffic.

A distraction or moment of inattention caused a catastrophic and life changing accident. Thankfully I wasn’t killed as a result and there were no other injuries to coworkers or damage to equipment. I suffered compound fractures to both legs, broken bones in my hand, a broken vertebra in my neck, and cuts and scrapes to my head and ear which required over 300 stitches and 5 reconstructive plastic surgeries, along with a serious concussion. I am very fortunate to have recovered with very little long term damage.       

Safety cannot be “overdone.”

We used every traffic control device available to us, and all workers were veteran employees with over 15 years experience in work zone safety requirements. Even with all the safety measures in place, a moment of distraction or inattention can result in accidents. All workers need to be constantly aware of traffic and potential hazards. While driving, in a work zone, or anywhere, one needs to be acutely aware of everything going on around them.

Today there are even more distractions, cell phones, ipods, gps units, etc. to cause a lapse in attention that could be devastating, or fatal. When you operate any vehicle you are committed to be responsible for its safe operation, both morally and legally.

Engineering Technician Patrick Inman retired in 2005 after 34 years of service at KDOT


Doesn’t Take But a Second

By Lory Williams
     Roadway safety. Sometimes we take it for granted. It seems we all know it, but, we get busy, or simply forget.
     Several years ago, our daughter worked as a traveling medical person. She worked the shifts of others who were scheduled to be gone, sick or on vacation. At the time, raising children on her own, she lived in the country, and one morning about 4:30 a.m. she was on the country road headed for the closest paved road when right in front of her, on her side of the road, but barely pulled to the side, was a huge tractor and disc, with no reflectors! Luckily she was wide awake, and not going fast or she would not be alive today.

It was definitely a scary day for us all.

     So our lesson that day was NEVER take for granted that others are always paying attention. One farmer, in a hurry, or maybe a young person not thinking that road was used much, just didn't pull the equipment off the road.
     You also hear about accidents in the country at harvest time. When I was in high school, we all had a favorite, fun teacher. It was in the fall and harvest time. Most of the corners in that area were tall, and we were normally very careful at the intersections.
     But, one evening, headed home, in a hurry I'm sure, our teacher came upon some harvesters. It was very dusty, and she was behind a truck, which she followed for a ways. Then, she thought it was clear to pass, and when she did, another truck hit her head on, killing her and her unborn child. It was a very sad day for sure.
     During harvest, or, on any dusty roads, it's better to be late than to be in a hurry and not make it.
     Roadway safety is of utmost importance.  Let's remember, it doesn't take but a second for something to happen.

 Lory Williams is the Farm Broadcaster at KBUF in Garden City


Life-saving equipment

By Mike Crow

I have an intimate interest in motorcycle safety since I had a motorcycle accident September 2006.  I believe my motorcycle safety equipment saved my life.
Here are some details of my accident. I was three miles from my home after a Saturday morning breakfast ride with some of friends when a car in front of me suddenly slammed on their breaks. I reacted by slamming on my breaks and my motorcycle dove to the left which threw me into the opposing driving lane.

I landed on the pavement.

Almost immediately I got up and moved to the side of the road and realized my left knee was in pain. Kind people stopped and helped me by calling 911, which brought an ambulance within minutes. I had shattered my left knee but not a scratch anywhere else.
After I got home from the hospital someone brought my motorcycle jacket and helmet to me and I noticed a large spot on my helmet where my head hit the pavement and several tears on my padded motorcycle jacket. I believe that if I was not wearing the helmet and jacket I would have been very seriously injured if not dead.
That morning I had decided not to wear my padded motorcycle pants and just wore jeans. It is possible that the pads in the knees of the motorcycle pants may have cushioned the impact as I hit the road and prevented my knee injury.
My safety equipment probably saved my life. As my friend Bruce always says “You only have to wear your safety equipment when you plan on going down.” Of course we don’t know when that is.
Mike Crow is the Director of the Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association and a KDOT retiree


Could Have Been

By Casey Simoneau
I had just gotten home from work one afternoon and had gone to attend my son’s soccer game.  While at the game, I received a call that I was needed to respond to a fatality accident.  I went home and put on my uniform and responded to the accident scene.
When I arrived, I was informed that we had two fatality victims and one was a child.  The worst type of fatality for me to work is one that involves a child.  No fatality is easy nor do you forget about them, but feelings are compounded when an innocent child becomes a victim. 
This particular accident occurred when one vehicle driving west crossed the center median and struck the other vehicle.  The driver of the westbound vehicle died and a child from the eastbound vehicle died.  The other three passengers of the westbound vehicle (including another child) survived. 
The scene investigation was completed and the traffic was allowed back through the area, but the job and the pain are still not over.  The hardest part of working a fatality is the aftermath.
A few days later I met with the family of the child.  The pain of their loss could be seen on their faces.   The other child involved in the accident was also there and I was able to give her a Trooper Bear, but unfortunately that will never bring back her brother.  I spoke with the family for approximately an hour.  I answered many questions and helped bring answers to why this situation had occurred.  So many questions were asked that I could not answer. 

Two families lost loved ones. 

They will never have the opportunity to hold that person in their arms again or tell them how they feel about them.  They will have to continue living with only the memories that remain about that person.  The death of the people involved will weigh in the minds of both of these families. 
What is forgotten is the impact of a fatality accident on the law enforcement community.  We have a job to do and we complete that job with professionalism and to the best of our ability.  However, this does not take away the emotional strain that this has on each law enforcement officer that is involved with these accidents.  We each think and wonder if the accident could have been avoided if I were patrolling that area at that time and able to stop the vehicle that crossed over.  Maybe two loved ones could have been saved.  Maybe two families could have been saved. 
I view each of these incidents as a learning experience.  As the motoring public, each driver makes decisions that may or may not affect the lives of other people.  Whether a driver decides to get into a vehicle after drinking, doing drugs or isn’t paying attention while driving may adversely affect someone else’s life forever.  In this instance not only did a bad decision adversely affect other people’s lives, but it cost the lives of two people. 
There are now two families that will not be able to talk to their loved ones again due to a bad decision by one of the drivers.  As a Trooper, it causes me to appreciate my son and appreciate the time that I get with him.  A life can be taken from us in a matter of seconds - and as a father and a Trooper, I understand the effect that can have on a family and a community.
Casey Simoneau is a Technical Trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol

A Life Changing Chapter

By Carlotta Meeker
You know, I never thought that something as simple as wearing a seat belt could really save someone’s life when I was younger. When I started driving as a junior at Andover High School, I would always tell my sister that I wouldn’t start the car until she put her seat belt on.
One day in the fall of 2005 my sister and I left the band room at the high school, never thinking that anything would happen, as we got to the vehicle. Getting in the vehicle I waited to start the car until both of us had our seat belts on.
As I started to turn out to merge onto Andover Road, a car whipped out of the other end of the school parking lot and hit me at 40+mph in a school zone. She hit the driver side of my Ford Probe and spun the car around, shattering all the windows and shifting the dash.

It all happened so fast

I wasn’t for sure what had occurred until the officer came to my car. It was hard for the police officer to handle what he saw because he was our Safety Resource Officer at the school and I was covered in glass and cut up. I had to “Dukes of Hazard” to get out of my car because there was no way to open the door.
If it hadn’t been for the bracing bar in the driver’s door, I would have received the full impact of the car. I was also informed by the officer and my doctor that it was a good thing that my sister and I were wearing our seat belts.
From this accident, I broke my ribs, messed up my sternum, and got a concussion but I survived. It made me realize how important seat belts really are and how they saved my life. Being safe is important because anything can happen that can change the outcome of our life.
Today we hear about people who die in crashes who would still be with us today if they had been wearing seat belt. It just goes to show that taking those few seconds to strap yourself in can really change your life.
Carlotta is a grad student at the University of Central Oklahoma


By Joe Palic
Work zone fatalities are usually broken down into two categories; those from occupational accidents involving highway workers, and those from vehicle crashes involving motorists traveling through the work zone.
I don’t mean to trivialize the risks to highway workers because ours is an extremely dangerous occupation, but FHWA statistics consistently show that nearly 90% of all work zone fatalities involve motorists rather than highway workers. My experience closely reflects the FHWA statistics. I can only recall 2 fatalities involving highway workers, but well over a dozen involving motorists.
The most common work zone crash I’m familiar with is where a driver runs into the back of a vehicle that has either slowed or stopped in the work zone. In many of these crashes the driver will claim to have not seen either the entire series of advance road work signs, or the vehicle in the middle of the road that they hit.
It’s sobering to realize that these drivers had not been focused on driving for some distance, and I believe they would very likely have hit anything that was in front of them during that time. It’s also sad that the work zone usually catches the blame for their crash.
I’ve had up-close looks at many work zone crashes. So far I’ve been very fortunate that the crash survivors have always been extricated from the wreckage and moved from the scene before I’ve arrived. However, there have been times where I’ve experienced the unpleasantness of watching the Jaws of Life cut vehicles completely apart to recover bodies. Wrecks are ugly.
I wish all motorists were more aware of how dangerous driving can be. If they were, I’d bet they would stay more focused on the task of driving, especially while in a work zone. It might just save their life.

Joe Palic is the KDOT Area Engineer in Marion

Approach work zone safety as if your own life is on the line

By Alan Farrington

As a young Construction Engineer working for the Kansas DOT back in 1987, I experienced a job site incident that would forever change my outlook on the importance of everything related to work zone safety and traffic control.
Contacted by the Kansas Highway Patrol at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I was informed that there had been a double fatality on one of my projects. I was asked to come to the project site immediately. With little detail provided, and not thinking of asking after having been woken up in the middle of the night, I got dressed and headed out. The project had only begun a few days before, so there wasn’t much of a chance for the traffic control signing and devices to have fallen into disrepair. Driving to the site, I wondered what could have happened.
The project involved the reconstruction of an urban 4-lane divided Interstate, so traffic was carried head-to-head on one half, separated by concrete safety barrier, while construction took place on other half. Soon after traffic was diverted to one side, construction began on the replacement of a large triple barrel concrete box culvert running under the half being reconstructed.
As I approached the sea of emergency vehicles’ flashing lights, I realized the incident was on the closed section of the roadway at the culvert excavation. The excavation was about 75 feet across at the top and 15 feet deep. There were three vehicles in the hole; two that appeared to have tried to stop and dropped in on the near side and a third that had almost made it across the excavation, crashing into the far side a few feet below grade. It was that third one that resulted in the fatalities.
As I was briefed by the KHP Sergeant as to the events that led them to find the vehicles and I inquired about the fatalities, he pointed to the ground. I saw that I was nearly standing on the body bag of one of the victims. The other had been taken by ambulance but expired shortly thereafter. I realized immediately this was REAL. The seriousness of the situation was reiterated in the hours and days after when I was bombarded with inquiries by the Highway Patrol, local media, national media, District staff, Headquarters staff and attorneys.
Because proper traffic control was in place, yet the unfortunate parties decided they’d have a little “fun” on the closed highway (alcohol was also a factor), this incident fortunately didn’t result in any law suits. However, the experience instilled vigilance in my approach to traffic control setup, maintenance, inspection and documentation that I’ve maintained ever since; even after leaving KDOT to work on the contracting side of the work. You can never idiot-proof every possible circumstance, but as long as you approach work zone safety as if your own life is on the line, you’re likely to give it a little more attention and thought.

Alan is with Wildcat Construction Co., Inc. in Wichita


By Delane Newkirk
Having worked at KDOT for almost 34 years, I can say I have seen a lot traffic control issues.
From near misses, to did you not see the road work signs, to what in the world are they doing. I have seen people drive through freshly shot oil, drive completely around the work zone on the grass shoulder, stop and turn around at the work zone and go back the other direction. I could go on and on.
When I first started flagging, it seemed like the people you had to watch out for was some of the elderly. They would sometimes drive a car length or more past you and then stop. When you walked up to the vehicle to speak to them, they were just sitting there still looking over the steering wheel straight ahead. Did you see me standing back there with the stop and slow sign? Most would say yes, but you had to wonder why they drove clear past you before they stopped.
Later when flagging, it seemed like there were always those people you would get stopped in the work zone who didn’t have enough time to be stopped. They were running late, or had an appointment they had to be on time for, or just simply, I don’t have time to be waiting here. It will just be a few minutes, you would say, and they would act like you had just ruined their day.
Lastly, in more recent times I have to say that the most distracted drivers are the ones that are using their cell phones as they come into our work zones. When you get them stopped, some are still on the phone. Gee, is our work zone disturbing your phone call? May I have your attention for a minute?
We can put up all the road work signs, cones and arrow boards according to our work zone policy and have it all measured out to the nearest foot. But all of that sometimes does not get the attention of a distracted motorist. It all comes down to that person who is behind the steering wheel. They have to concentrate on their driving and be aware as they come into our work zones.
At the end of the day, I want to see all of my people back to the shop safely. The traveling motorists need to help us make sure that happens.

Delane Newkirk is the KDOT Subarea Supervisor at Great Bend


By Casey Simoneau
I was on duty a few years back and had just gotten in my patrol car when I heard a highway worker had been struck and killed. I went to the location of the crash and tried to assist where needed. It was an extremely difficult scene to view.
Any event where a person has been killed is difficult to work. The difficulty is compounded when someone is killed while doing their job on the side of the road. Troopers and highway workers are at the mercy of the traffic that is surrounding them. Highway workers depend on signs, cones, law enforcement and other personnel to keep their work area safe around them. On this particular day none of those safety measures worked.
While at the scene of an incident like this you find yourself wondering “why did this happen?” “What if a law enforcement officer would have been in the area to stop this person?” “How can this be avoided next time?” These are all questions that are constantly running through every law enforcement officer’s mind as well as highway workers.
When a person is killed along the side of a highway, the aftermath is felt all over the local community, the law enforcement community, and also with their co-workers. But even more so, it is even harder for the families of those involved. Many people do not believe that an incident of this capacity could ever happen to you, however the fact is that it could happen to anyone. Due to the profession that we chose, law enforcement and road workers have a greater chance of being killed on the side of the road than anyone else.
What happened on that day will never be forgotten by the many personnel that were working that day. It will never be forgotten by the community, nor will it be forgotten by the workers in the construction zone that day. That incident not only directly impacted his family, but it also affected numerous communities. Each day, I drive by the area and I see the flowers sitting in the ditch next to the area of where the road workers lost their life. It is a constant reminder of that tragic day and I always hope that an incident like that never happens again.
With this said I would like to remind people to be cautious of the highway workers working on the roadways. People tend to get frustrated with work zones and all the signs, cones and equipment that come with them, but the workers are there to make your highways safer for you and me.
Please slow down and be mindful that each of the highway workers is doing their jobs and they have families that they would like to go home to at the end of their shift. Through these great people, we as Kansans get the opportunity to enjoy one of the best roadway systems in all of the Unites States. The Kansas Highway Patrol would like to say THANK YOU.

Casey Simoneau is a Technical Trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol