An ambitious dream

By Larry Emig
     "Imagine...a day with ZERO traffic fatalities" was the first Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day message shared in 2001 when the program was initiated during an October 10th Ceremony on the  steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.  In the five years leading up to 2001 nearly 42,000 fatalities were occurring each year on our nation's roadways.  This meant nearly 115 individuals died every day or one every 13 minutes.
     In recent years, the Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day program has supported other organizations by promoting "Towards ZERO Fatalities - One Day at a time."  During this time, our specific safety message "Don't be Driven by "Distraction - Drive to Arrive," has focused on the distracted driver.   This was done to address the increasing number of fatalities caused by the use of mobile phones.
     Since 2007, there has been a steady decline in the total number of fatalities from slightly over 41,000 to nearly 32,400 in 2011 or the latest year with NHTSA's official fatality count.  This is an average of nearly 90 per day or one every 16 minutes.
     Good things have happened involving traffic safety the last several years to help bring about the reduction in fatalities – seat belt usage rates have increased, improvements have been made to roadway designs, continued maintenance and new construction have been occurred on many roadways, and enhancements have been made to vehicular safety.  On the other hand, distracted driving has skyrocketed, impaired driving is still a major concern and seat belt use amongst teen is not nearly as high as we would like.  Progress has been made, however, there is still work to be done.
     On behalf the Kansas Put the Brakes of Fatalities Day Committee, I want to thank each person who wrote a safety blog for the 2013 series as well as to everyone who has read them and shared them with others. We’ve heard from people across Kansas who have told us about many personal experiences - from their lives being saved by seat belts to losing loved ones and dealing with terrible crashes.
     Since we began this program, many states have participated in activities as part of the Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day campaign.  It is important that safety messages are being spread across the country. Bottom line – we want you to be safe where ever you travel.
     When I first promoted this safety campaign 12 years ago, the idea was to have a day without fatalities across the U.S.  While I know that’s an ambitious dream, I think it’s one to keep working towards so that one by one, we put the brakes on fatalities.

Larry Emig initiated the national Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day safety campaign in 2001. Larry was the Chief of the Bureau of Local Project and retired from the Kansas Department of Transportation in 2006 and is still very active in finding ways to improve traffic safety.

Too many fatalities like this

By Russell L Berry
     This is a story about my first Friday as the School Resource Officer at Shawnee Heights High School in September of 2000.  After school, I went home to prepare for working the evening football game.  As I was returning to the school early that evening, I received a call from dispatch advising that there was a fatality wreck at SE 53rd and Paulen Road.
     I was the first officer on the scene and noticed that the victim was a young man that appeared to be a high school student.  After checking the license plate on the car, I determined that he was a Shawnee Heights High School student and also determined that his mother was a teacher at the high school. It was determined that he was on his way to the school to perform at the football game as a member of the marching band.  The victim was running late to the performance so instead of taking his normal route to school on SE 45th Street, he instead chose SE 53rd Street, which has lighter traffic that would in turn allow him to travel faster. 
     Upon investigating the accident it was determined that he was traveling between 70 and 75 mph in a 40 mph zone when he lost control of the car and crossed over the other lane of traffic.  The student entered the ditch on the opposite side of the road, broke through a fence and went approximately 75 yards into a field where he hit a tree head on.  The victim was not wearing a seat belt.  After investigating the accident, another officer and the Police Chaplin went to the mother’s home to notify her of the accident and her son’s death. 
     Not only was this a tragedy for the victim’s family, but the students and staff at the school were greatly affected.  This accident was especially difficult because not only did the kids lose a fellow student but a much loved teacher lost her child.  After this kind of tragedy the following weeks at the school are met with an eerie silence in the halls.  Extra counselors are brought in, students congregate in quiet groups and many tears are shed. 
     Unfortunately in my 28 years with the Sheriff’s office, 12 of those years as a School Resource Officer, and my two years as Chief of Police for Washburn Rural School District, I have worked too many fatality accidents like this.  This accident could have been avoided had the victim not been traveling at such an excessive rate of speed, especially on an unfamiliar road, and distracted by being late and rushing to get where he needed to be.  It is unfortunate that too many teenagers believe that they are invincible and do not pay attention to speed limits.

Russell L Berry is the Chief of Police for USD 437 – Auburn Washburn School District in Topeka

His Final Call

By Danielle Marten
     Move over – it’s Kansas law.  We have all heard this message through public service announcements and we recognize it to mean we should slow down and move over for flashing lights.  The purpose of this law is to give police and other emergency personnel enough room to work while they are on the side of the road.  What happens when someone doesn’t move over and slow down?  Unfortunately, my family knows this answer too well.

This four-minute video was created for a traffic safety event this spring - go to  (then under Available Podcasts, click on His Final Call - Danielle Marten's Story) - or you can read below to see how my family suffered and the lasting impact when a driver chose to not “move over” on a cold winter night, three decades ago. 

     In January of 1982, my parents were celebrating the happiest time of their lives.  After years of trying to have a child, my mother was 5 months pregnant with me.  My father, a Wichita Police Officer, had put in for a shift transfer from the midnight shift to the day shift in order to spend more time with his wife and soon-to-be first child.  His request had been granted and he was just days away from the transfer when he got a call one evening to respond to a disturbance at a local bar.  Little did my father know this call would be his final call.
     As my father arrived at the bar, a vehicle quickly backed into the street from the bar parking lot and he stopped the vehicle to question the occupants and/or make an arrest.  Another vehicle, traveling at a high rate of speed, struck my father as he was standing on the side of the road.  He was killed instantly.  The happiest time of my parent’s lives quickly turned into the most tragic time of my mother’s life. 
     The fact that one vehicle did not slow down or pull over for those flashing lights has had a lifelong impact on my family.  My mother raised a child on her own, I didn’t get the chance to know my father and my father was robbed of his dream of parenthood.
     Please, move over when you see flashing lights on the side of the road.  Slow down and keep your eyes on the road as well.  Your vehicle tends to drift in the direction you are looking so please do not gawk at the scene.  Please remember that police and other emergency personnel that are working on the side of the road have families that would like them to return home safe.  Please make a conscience decision to protect those who are out day and night protecting you.

Danielle Marten is a Traffic Safety Consultant with the Kansas Department of Transportation

A Parent's Perspective

By Governor Sam Brownback
     In my time in elected office, I have welcomed the responsibilities incumbent on me as the Governor and, prior to that, as a Congressman and Senator serving the citizens of Kansas.  This great privilege has also been a great source of joy.
     As a husband and father of five, I understand there is no greater responsibility, and no greater joy, than family.  My two youngest children, now 15, are just beginning to drive.  It’s a rite of passage experienced by every family as they watch their “babies” climb behind the wheel of a car and head out the driveway on their way to school.
     My job as a parent is to keep my children safe. My wife and I taught all our children to be cautious and pay attention to their surroundings.  We have taught them the importance of focusing on the task at hand and doing it to the best of their abilities. Like all parents, we have worked hard to teach them the skills they need to succeed in everything they do.
     Now that Mark and Jenna are driving, we talk about focus in a different way.  Remaining focused while driving means not giving in to distractions.  Those distractions can take many forms – talking friends in the car while you drive, playing with the radio, noticing other cars or drivers, and of course the thing that distracts so many of us, our cell phones.
     It takes discipline not to pick up your cell phone for the latest text or to see who might be calling. It takes discipline not to take your eyes off the road to chat with friends riding in the back seat. A few seconds of distracted driving can have disastrous results.
     As a father, and like fathers everywhere, every time my kids get on the road I remind them to put down the phone and drive. 

Sam Brownback is the 46th governor of Kansas

Devastating consequences

     The chances of having a crash are 23 times greater if you are texting while driving. Nearly 40 percent of all American teens polled say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put them in danger. Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds – that’s like driving the length of a football field at 55 mph completely blind.
     These statistics on driving while texting are scary, and the danger and loss of lives are very real.
     To help illustrate the devastating consequences of texting while driving, first responders, friends and family share emotional stories during this eight-minute documentary created by AT&T called “Don’t Text While Driving.” In addition, a young man who was a passenger in a car with a driver texting while driving tells how his life been turned upside down.  

     Please watch this video at

Even buses have accidents

By Shayna McCall
     I was an eighth grader in middle school and I caught the bus one day after school to go to my grandmother’s house. I was really excited for the long ride ahead of because a few of my friends were riding with me.
     A few seconds later, the bus wrecked into a cemetery gate. I slammed forward and my knee smashed into the metal pole. I was really scared and in shock. The driver must have fallen asleep or something. I was in so much pain that I couldn't walk. They evacuated the bus and my friend had to carry me all the way home. It was so sweet and nice.
     This affected me because my knee was hurt badly and I had to wear a knee brace for a while. I still have to every now and then. I am constantly having really awful pains. The importance of safety is entirely needed. It is always a great thing to make sure that you’re in the best care possible.
     Traffic safety is a priority in today's society that we need to fully be aware of. That way we know how to combat things that may in turn harm our safety.

Shayna McCall is a student at Highland Park High School in Topeka

A split second

By Denise Petet
     Saturday, May 26, 2012, I was sitting at home, waiting for my mom to get home from church so we could go to dinner. And then the phone rings and it was a stranger…calling on my mom’s cell phone. She proceeded to tell me that my mom had been in a bike wreck and that AMR was taking her to the hospital. She also said she’d meet me there to give me my mom’s stuff and that they were keeping her bicycle in their back yard until we could come and get it.
     Not surprisingly, I dashed out the door and hurried to the hospital. I met these strangers who gave me my mom’s possessions and then went back to the treatment room, all the time thinking that I was going to see someone frustrated with being transported and generally being a ‘bad patient’…after all, my mom is an RN and everyone knows that nurses and doctors make the worst patients.
     If only it had been that.
     What I saw was my mother, who had always been so strong and self-reliant, lying on a gurney, surrounded by medical personnel.  Right as I got there they took her away for a head CT and she came back in just a few minutes.
     When she was brought back into the room, she didn’t recognize me. She was confused and disoriented. Then the doctor gets the results back and tells me that it was a subdural hematoma and that they’d need to operate immediately.
     About an hour after I got the phone call, we were practically jogging down the hall as I followed the tech getting her to the OR.
     The next time I saw her was in the ICU. Half her head had been shaved and a bandage covered the wound. She had a large incision on her skull and it took 28 surgical staples to close the wound.
     It was Monday morning before she was moved from the ICU to a normal room. Then Wednesday she was transferred to a rehab hospital. Three weeks later she was able to come home, and it was three weeks of little victories. Managing the pain, getting out of bed, proving she could take care of herself like she had before. It was months before she could go back to work and get on her beloved bicycle again. Over a year later, she still deals with minor issues from the wreck.
     All in all, she, and we, were very lucky. She still doesn’t and likely never will remember those few days after the accident.  In fact, the main way we know what happened comes from others. She was bicycling home from church and going down a side street. A lady that was going to a party opened her car door in front of my mom. Natural instinct is to avoid an object and she fell - breaking her collarbone and getting a contrecoup concussion that led to the brain bleed that resulted in the craniotomy procedure that had to be done to save her life.
     Nothing malicious or mean. Nothing deliberate or cruel. Just a person that wasn’t paying attention for the split second it took her to open a car door.  A split second that our family has spent the last year recovering from. A split second that will be part of our lives forever.
     A split second.

Denise Petet is a Media Technician for the Kansas Department of Transportation

Prevention is the best medicine

By Brooke Shumaker
     As a nurse in Emergency Department and the Safe Kids Shawnee County Coalition Coordinator, I am driven to do my part in educating parents and children on the importance of being properly restrained while in a motorized vehicle.  During my emergency nursing career over the past 8 years I have seen things that no one can prepare themselves for and helped families deal with their worst fears.
     Seeing the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident and the sadness of those who survived is very heartbreaking and also frustrating.  There are several situations in which reckless driving in combination with no seat belt has led to an unnecessary death.  I can’t stress to patients enough that seatbelts can be the best protection a person has against other drivers.  Wearing your seatbelt is one of the easiest decisions a person can make and is one that can have the most impact. 
     As a nurse in the Emergency Department I find it my duty to continuously educate my patients on the importance of making safe decisions.  Even though I teach patients daily the importance of making healthy decision, I also feel by the time I reach them they have already experienced a tragic event.  
     As the Safe Kids Coalition Coordinator I am now able to promote injury prevention and health promotion outside of the hospital before incidents occur.  I work to partner with local organizations to put on activities throughout the community that promote making safe decisions and living healthy lifestyles.  Some of the activities and initiatives Safe Kids focuses on surrounding motor vehicles are Child Passenger Safety, Buckle Up programs, In and Around Car Safety, Hyperthermia in Cars, and Spot the Tot. 
     Through being a part of Safe Kids I have learned that you not only have to target your efforts towards the children, but also the parents and adults who are their role models.  I always find it interesting to see adults not wearing their seatbelts but their children are.  Parents can also make bad decisions for children by encouraging unsafe practices.  I feel it is the responsibility of the adults and parents to be the role model for the child and instill healthy lifestyles that prevent injuries. 
     To fully promote healthy decisions and lifestyles it takes the teamwork of various key stakeholders throughout the community and resources.  For more information on how you can do your part to keep Kids Safe or events going on in your area visit
     Safety tips to remember:
·         Every person on every ride must use a car seat, booster seat or safety belt that’s right for his or her weight and height
·         All children under age 13 should ride in a back seat
·         Know where the airbags are in your vehicles and whether they can be turned off
·         Don’t share safety belts
·         Never use car seats purchased from yard sales, secondhand stores, or flea markets
·         Weigh and measure your children regularly to ensure they are using the correct safety device.
·         Never let children ride on laps, in cargo areas, or truck beds.
                                         (Safe Kids Worldwide)

Brooke Shumaker RN, BSN, MSN, CNL-C, is a Clinical Nurse Leader in the Emergency Department & Trauma Services for Stormont-Vail HealthCare and also the Safe Kids Shawnee County Coalition Coordinator