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