We wrapped up our eighth annual Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day blog series. Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and a special thank you to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for being a part of this series for the last several years.
Some of these were heartwarming stories, and some of these were stories about tragedies. But they all showed why traffic safety is so important. Every time you get in a car, in a truck, on a motorcycle, on a bike, or even walking, getting safely where you are going must be the priority.
Yesterday, Oct. 10, was the official day to celebrate Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day, but it’s important to focus on this message all year long.

As a final safety message for this series, AT&T published a video as part of its #ITCANWAIT safety campaign – very powerful – please watch and share, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9swS1Vl6Ok

It’s bad, really bad

By Cheryl Carlson

Jordan and Bailey

On a bitterly cold morning in January 2013, I was on my way to work deep in my own thoughts about what the day would have in store for me. Little did I know that tragedy had already struck our family. My cell phone rang and my grandson, Wyatt, was calling to tell me that his sisters had just had a bad accident on their way to school. He was panicked and crying and I could barely understand what he was telling me. He said, “Grandma it’s bad, really bad.”

I drove directly to the accident site where other family members, police, ambulance and EMS had already arrived. As I approached the mangled remains of their Jeep Liberty I experienced the most intense fear I had ever known. I saw our two sons and Wyatt all standing together and crying. Our Sheriff, Greg Riat, came over to me and gave me a big hug and encouraged me not to worry, that they would get the girls out. At that point I really didn’t even know if they were alive.

They had been wearing their seat belts but they didn’t end up in them. The force of the accident must have pulled them up and out of their seats because their seat covers had also been pulled off. But hopefully that’s what kept them in the vehicle. They had both been thrown into the back storage area of the Jeep and Jordan (age 15) was wedged into that small area on top of her sister, Bailey (age 9). There was no movement as the EMS personnel and other emergency workers frantically worked to free them. The “Jaws of Life” finally succeeded in getting the roof cut through enough to get Jordan out. She wasn’t fully conscious but thankfully was alive and in a great deal of pain.

Bailey in a body shell brace

The force of the accident had pulled both of her boots from her feet. One foot was, at some point, outside the vehicle as it rolled end over end two or three times. Due to severe head trauma, Life Star was called to transport her to Stormont Vail. I can still hear that helicopter as it landed in the field near the accident and then the complete feeling of helplessness and fear as it left…and the tears I have in my eyes now as I relive that horrible day.

As the helicopter lifted off, I called Richard at the Capitol to tell him of the accident and to have him go directly to the hospital to meet the helicopter. Then our attention was focused back on Bailey who was by now, moaning and crying and trying to move. Her pain was so intense that all she could do was scream. It was freezing cold, about 9 degrees, and her new coat was cut off of her to help get her free. We had just given that coat to her for Christmas and she was not happy. Finally, after almost an hour she was placed on a board and I’ll never forget what she said. A female EMS member asked her about her pain and wanted to know if her pelvis hurt. She replied, “I don’t know what a pelvis is!” That was the only bright spot up to that moment.

She was transported to Stormont Vail by ambulance. She and her sister were in the Trauma Center for about 36 hours and then were well enough to be in the PICU. Jordan had to have surgery to repair a toe that was mangled and after about six days in the hospital was allowed to come home. Bailey had compression fractures of every bone in her back and was in excruciating pain for days. She was fitted with a neck brace and a body “shell” brace that she had to wear for about 6 weeks. After being released from the hospital she had to go to the Madonna Center in Lincoln for a short while and came home about three weeks later.

The accident happened on a gravel road when Jordan got too close to a ridge of frozen rock. It threw her across the road at which time she over compensated and shot back across. Her front axle came off. Then she hit a wall of the ditch which threw them end over end into the pasture. She, like most farm kids, learn to drive at an early age. The accident was probably due to a lack of experience of driving in general, and driving on gravel which is a totally different ball game.

Now both girls are doing just fine. Jordan has graduated from high school and is beginning studies in nursing. Bailey is now an active 8th grader who is a cheerleader. She has taken dance since the accident, loves to swim and loves to ride her horse, Renegade. We are so blessed to have them in our lives and cherish every hug we share.

Cheryl Carlson is the wife of KDOT Interim Secretary Richard Carlson


Tragedies that can’t be reversed

By John Milburn

There’s an old saying I’ve heard from veterans describing war or vacationers coming back from an exotic locale: you wouldn’t understand until you’ve been there yourself.
In a way, I have been when it comes to traffic crashes. Oh, I’ve had a few fender-benders, but nothing like what I witnessed in my previous life as a reporter in small communities in Kansas. Those opportunities afforded me access to some of the most horrific and tragic crashes one can imagine.
One of the first was in the summer of 1986 while working on my last night of an internship in Pittsburg. Regular staff members were taking their vacations so I filled in while they were gone. My summer ended on the cops and court beat. The court side was easy as there were few happenings worth reporting during that stretch. The police beat was a bit different and quite enlightening to what reporters and emergency responders face on any given call.
This particular evening a call came in over the scanner of a two-car accident near the airport northwest of town. Our photographer and I grabbed gear and headed out to what we suspected was a bad scene. And it was.
Two teens had “borrowed” mom’s car and were out driving country roads at a high rate of speed when they blew through an intersection and collided broadside with a pick-up truck. The truck was knocked into a field and heavily damaged. We could see the EMS crews working to save the young driver. And just like in the movies, sparks and smoke were coming from the vehicle, giving a sense of urgency.
Where was the other vehicle? What was left of the small car was a crumpled heap near the fence row. The two young boys were thrown from the car and lie dead in the tall weeds in the ditch. I didn’t know them, but knew they weren’t much younger than me. In an instant, what seemed like a fun summer night driving around town turned deadly.
Those images stuck with me through college and my first job in Arkansas City where I was a reporter and editor. A similar call came in the newsroom one afternoon about the time school was letting out. A one-car accident was reported in the northwest part of the county.
We pulled to the scene and EMS and fire crews were working the accident. A young man had lost control of his car and crashed into a fence row. He was killed instantly.
I share these stories as a former reporter and as a current parent. They are images that are forever etched in my memories. They were so-called war stories that reporters share when discussing what they’ve done over the years. But as a parent now of two teens that are learning to drive, they serve as teaching moments that cause me to tense up each time they are behind the wheel.
Not every trip out of the driveway will end in tragedy, but I want my children—everyone’s children— to know the risks. It’s dangerous enough under normal circumstances for these young drivers to navigate town. Adding too much speed, hazardous weather or all of the distractions of modern technology and the risks multiply.
I don’t want some young reporter to ever have to walk up to a crash and see another child injured or killed. While they may be good teaching moments or stories to share back at the newsroom, they are tragedies that can’t be reversed.
John Milburn is the Director of Legislative and Public Affairs for the Kansas Department of Administration



A game of inches

By Keith Lindemann

Can you remember the last time you had the experience of standing on the highway while passing vehicles fly by? Chances are, you were pretty nervous while you were changing that flat tire or adding that gallon or two of gas. The sound of tires on the pavement just inches away and the rush of air created by the passing vehicles are warning signs of how dangerous it is out there. These warning signs should motivate you to finish the job before the unthinkable happens. The unthinkable is - being struck and killed by a passing motorist.
I experience these feelings most every shift while working the streets, roads and highways as Captain on Rescue-1. Rescue-1 responds with law enforcement and EMS to all injury accidents in Salina, and in Saline County. Once on the scene of an accident, my responsibilities include traffic control and performing extrication techniques to free trapped occupants. Believe me - traffic control is often times more challenging than the extrications themselves. Directing all oncoming traffic safely around the emergency scene can be challenging, mainly because of inattentive drivers.
Did you know that if changing your flat tire takes 30 minutes, up to 300 vehicles might pass by during that time? How many of those 300 drivers are drunk, drugged, drowsy, texting or distracted by something else in their vehicles? These human factors, along with ice, rain, snow, curves and hills, are the leading causes of secondary collisions.
Despite attending and instructing classes in Traffic Incident Management and setting up the perfect traffic control zone, I have been conditioned to never really be comfortable while working in traffic. Most responders don’t trust the traffic because of close calls they have experienced at one time or another during their careers. On average, 12 law enforcement officers, 5 firefighters, and 60 tow operators are killed each year due to distracted drivers crashing into emergency scenes.
Why am I writing this blog? Why am I so passionate about the subject? My passion is fueled because of personally experiencing several close calls (some within inches) and by witnessing a few actual secondary crashes during my 30 years with the Salina Fire Department (26 assigned to Rescue-1). Thankfully I am alive to write about them.
In 2011, a distracted driver ran into one of our scenes on I-135 and struck a Salina PD officer who was assisting with traffic control (see photo above). I witnessed this secondary crash while standing in the median about 100 feet away. I will never forget the emotions I felt while running toward the patrol car to check on the condition of the officer and distracted driver. The crash resulted in 2 additional patients, and yet more traffic control problems. Thankfully both the officer, who was seated in his vehicle, and the distracted driver were treated and released from our local hospital.
Lindemann during rope rescue training
We’ve all heard the message “Move Over and Slow Down.” The public needs to know that “Move Over and Slow Down” is a state law in Kansas and not just a suggestion. Vehicles traveling at highway speeds crashing into vehicles that are stopped are always more severe than the original crash and often times result in fatalities. I can say that when my crew and I are working an incident, the drivers that actually move over and actually slow down absolutely make the scene safer for everyone, including themselves.
In closing, my recommendation for motorists would be to always be aware of conditions ahead, watch for emergency lights in the distance, obey warning signs and traffic cones, and move over and slow down for responders. For those of you already practicing these recommendations, thank you! It really is a game of inches.
Keith Lindemann is the Fire/Rescue Captain at the Salina Fire Department


Don’t be selfish, be selfless

By Cpl. Jordan Couturier 

Throughout the brief 11 years of my career in law enforcement I have witnessed the good, bad, and the ugly sides of traffic safety. Whether it was injury, fatality or no harm at all, each crash gave testament to a predictable denominator in each unfortunate incident:  failed human responsibility.
Obviously we cannot foresee when these crashes will occur. However, we certainly know they will occur and it is only a matter of when it will happen. Even though humans are intricately designed living organisms, capable of the most amazing feats, we fail at the most simple tasks. 
Crashes are preventable incidents.  Sure, there are examples of cataclysmic events or sudden mechanical failure. But, the vast majority of crashes occur because a person is failing to complete a task. No one intends to be involved in a crash. They might feel they are the safest driver on the roadway. 
But what about the other driver thinking they can make up time while running a little late for a meeting?  Or the driver following closer than usual behind a vehicle moving at a seemingly snail like pace?  And of course, there is the driver who quickly glances now and then at their phone just to make sure nothing else is happening in the world?  But, they aren’t you right? You’re the safest driver on the street.
So what is the problem then?  What is the predictable denominator?  Them?  The other drivers?  Guess again.  It is you. It is us. Frankly, we humans are selfish.  We are more concerned about our own little driving world that we willingly cut corners and push the envelope while setting aside the common sense rules of the road. What do you think would happen if we all cared a lot less about ourselves and cared a little more about the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians sharing our traffic ways? It definitely would not be a perfect world, but I would bet each one of us would be a lot safer on the roadways.   
So, how did I get to this conclusion? Possibly it was the teenage boy thrown over 60 feet from his bicycle after being struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross a four-lane city street. Maybe it was the drunk parents colliding with trees and vehicles with their kids seated in the back. Perhaps it was the pregnant mother walking the shorter route across the street and meeting the front bumper of a passing motorist. Or maybe it has been the hundreds of other crashes I have responded to where someone needed to get somewhere fast and in a hurry, distracted themselves with anything other than driving their several thousand pound vehicle, and ignored the basic rules of driving. 
What do they all have in common?  You. You are the drivers, the pedestrians, and the cyclists.  It begins and ends with you. No more excuses. Choose to be responsible for your own safety and those around you. Make the conscious decision to care more about the people affected by your traffic safety practices. Don’t be selfish. Be selfless.   

Cpl. Jordan Couturier is with the City of Leawood Police Department


Your decisions on the road affect others

By Neal Charles


I’m that guy you talk to on the phone when you see or are part of a crash. I’m the one trying to keep you calm on the line and get the information of what has happened and what is needed in that moment. I’ve been working in the Kansas Turnpike’s Incident Management Center for several years, and unlike those who experience one or two accidents in their lifetime, I hear and assist with multiple crashes each week.

You would think as someone who is regularly on the other end of the line during these intense situations that I would become numb to what I hear. Well, that definitely isn’t the case. While I’ve unfortunately become used to tragic news, those calls about major incidents still get my heart pumping every time. I’ve experienced so many fatalities over the years, many of which still stick to me.

One that I still think about happened several years ago when a drunk driver hit a family in another vehicle, killing almost everyone involved. They were just headed to their family vacation. In an instant, the whole family was changed because of a complete stranger’s decision to drink and drive.

As the person on the other end of the phone, we don’t know the people involved. We stay calm, gather information and dispatch personnel. But, these people stay with us. They’ve gone through moments that are unimaginable.

I urge all of you to remember - your decisions on the road affect others. Stay alert, and don’t make stupid decisions. Traffic laws are there for a reason. I don’t want any of you to be another fatality on a call I answer.

Neal Charles is the Incident Management Center Assistant Supervisor with the Kansas Turnpike Authority

It can wait

By Galen Ludlow

As a KDOT employee with 30-plus years I have witnessed many incidents that could have had disastrous consequences for both the motorist involved and the workers in the work zone.
One of those that really stuck in my mind happened in the first summer of my career. Our crew had set up a work zone to do some patching in the southbound lane on a two-lane highway with paved shoulders. At this time, we were on 10 hour days so by 8 a.m., signs were set at proper spacing and cones for the flagman stations placed.
I was assigned to the south end station and as work started, we (flagmen) began alternating our traffic through the work zone. Shortly after this I observed a single car coming up to the Road Work Ahead sign. I had my flagging paddle turned to stop and left hand raised as required. As the car continues towards me I can hear the sound of the tires on the pavement and the engine. There was no noticeable change in sound as would be associated with a vehicle slowing down. I was taught by senior employees that listening for these is a good way to tell if the vehicle is slowing down.
Still heading toward me and now approaching the Flagman Ahead sign, speed still unchanged, I can see the sun visor is down and the driver is glancing back and forth between the road and the visor mirror. I began backing away toward the shoulder as they quickly approached. When the vehicle passed me I screamed “HEY!” as loud as I could and the driver slammed on the brakes and came to a stop.
As I walked up to the vehicle, I observed a young lady of high school age with a bag of makeup sitting on her lap. She was visibly shaken and apologized. She stated she had not noticed the signs and admitted being distracted by trying to finish her makeup because she was running late. I said to her it is better to be late than not get there at all and sent her on.
In so many ways this could have ended tragically. If we would have been working in the other lane or there had been traffic going through the work zone, injuries and possible fatalities could have occurred. And now with all of today’s technology, there are even more ways for drivers to be distracted. 
Most of us have family we wish to return home to at the end of each day. Waiting to make that call, send that text or even putting on makeup until it can be safely done will help you make it to your original destination and not your final destination. May your travels be safe and pleasant.
Galen Ludlow is KDOT Area Superintendent in Dodge City


Crashes are NOT accidents

By Chris Bortz  

Annually, about 60,000 crashes occur in Kansas. This equates to more than 150 crashes each day in the state. Four of the top five contributing circumstances listed on the crash report are driver-related behaviors. The contributing circumstances surrounding a crash are typically: speeding, too fast for conditions, failure to yield at a stop sign or stop light, following too closely, texting and/or other distraction.  All these factors are 100 percent preventable. The decisions that every driver makes not only impact themselves and their passengers, but everyone else on the road.
Using the word ‘crash’ instead of accident more accurately identifies the event - it doesn’t give the perception that no one was at fault.  The word ‘accident’ implies no one was at fault or that the event couldn’t have been prevented. That is a pretty hard pill to swallow if you were the victim in a crash and the other driver was going too fast for conditions and/or was distracted. 
You may have noticed that I didn’t include the circumstance of ‘impaired or drunk’ in the paragraph above. Choosing to drive impaired is a horrible, conscious decision and the ramifications of this decision lead to around 100 deaths, 1,300 injuries and 2,300 crashes in this state every year. In Kansas, You Drink, You Drive, You Lose.
I don’t believe that people get behind the wheel and say, “I think I will injure or kill someone in a car crash today.” Just because it was not intentional, doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been prevented.  Most drivers rate themselves as great drivers and will say the problem is the other driver(s). However, driving is a privilege, not a right. You are sharing the road with all drivers and it is important for you to drive as if your life depends on it. Oh wait, it just might.
On the Drive to Zero fatalities, you are in the driver’s seat.
Chris Bortz is the Traffic Safety Manager at KDOT

Didn’t have a scratch on him

My name is Steven Moody and I was a paramedic in Salina for 28 years and am currently the Fire Chief in El Dorado. The experience I’d like to share happened during my early years in Salina. I was called to a one-vehicle crash involving a rural mail carrier who I’ll refer to as Bob (not his real name). I rode with him in the ambulance and he conveyed to me how the crash occurred before he lost consciousness. And I’d like to share Bob’s story and mine … 

Houses in rural central Kansas are sometimes far and in between. So, it gave Bob the chance to do a bit of mail sorting while driving from one house to the next.

And that was what Bob was doing this particular day. 

Like many Kansas roads, this one was loose sand and gravel. And, the terrain was as flat as a pancake – one could see as far as one’s sight would allow. 

Bob was sorting his mail as he drove along the desolate road. No problem, or so he thought.  But, in the blink of an eye the right front tire drifted into the loose gravel.  The car was immediately pulled towards the ditch.

In response Bob quickly turned the steering wheel to the left in an effort to bring the car back from the ditch. Regrettably, when Bob did this instead of pulling the car back onto the roadway it tilted the car. 

And it didn’t stop there. The car kept tilting until it rolled completely onto its top. 

Another unfortunate thing was Bob’s lack of seat belt usage. As the car rolled onto its top, Bob came out of his seat and slammed his head forward when it struck the inside of the rooftop.

As the medic in charge, I walked up to the side of the vehicle and asked Bob if he was hurt. Bob’s response back was, “I can’t feel anything.” 

Bob didn’t have a scratch on him, but his injury was serious. He had broken his neck.  Bob was taken to the hospital, but sadly he did not survive his injury. 

Bob had violated two driving operator rules – he had been inattentive and he failed to use his seat belt.

Learn the lessons from Bob. You can be killed with just the right mechanism of injury.  Follow all the safety rules knowing your life could depend upon it.   


We should be making memories

By Sheri Baker-Bruster  

December 20, 2001.  I was 21 at the time. I was a full-time college student, worked part time, lived with my parents, and was planning a wedding for July. 
I have two brothers and an older half-sister and half-brother. My parents - Frank and Debbie - had just celebrated their 24th anniversary in November. My dad was 51 and was the wastewater Supervisor for the City of Wellington. He had worked there for almost 30 years.
I never thought for a moment that my life could be so drastically changed by someone else’s decision that I had no control over. We were on our way home about a mile north of Wellington when a car driving northbound crossed the center line and hit our car head-on.  The crash caused many traumatic injuries. I had several broken bones which left me in the hospital for eight weeks and required months of physical and occupational therapy. 
My dad fought for 32 hours after the crash, but in the end lost the battle and died from his injuries.  Christmas is supposed to be a time to spend with your family, not meeting with a funeral director and planning a funeral. I was not able to attend the funeral because I was in the hospital and did not fully understand what had happened or that my dad had died until six weeks after the wreck. 
The other driver that caused the wreck had been drinking at a local bar.  At the time of the wreck his BAC was .30 and he died at the scene when he was ejected from his vehicle. The car he was driving was torn into three pieces. 
I have had numerous surgeries and will have to have more. I did get married seven months after the wreck. Chris has been through all of this with me. Chris and I have two children: Ayden who is 9 and Gates who is 5, and they keep us busy. I talk about the wreck and my dad with Ayden and Gates. They should be making memories with my dad instead of me sharing memories of my dad with them.   
I would have never imagined that in a split second my life could be completely changed by a man who chose to drink and drive. This is something completely preventable.  
It has been 14 years and not a day goes by that I don’t think about my dad and the wreck. 
Sheri Baker-Bruster is a volunteer for the Kansas DUI Impact Center and was the Volunteer of the Year for 2016

Couldn’t stop in time

By Mallory Goeke 

“Mom, I was hit by a car!”
I will always remember June 4, 1999. I was 11 and riding my bike was my ticket to freedom. My hometown of Cimarron was small enough that I could bike wherever I wanted as long as I was home by dark.
I had been cruising down a large street on my way home from the pool. For a hyper kid like me, coasting downhill at top speed made me feel invincible. I made the decision to skip my normal route home in lieu of continuing my exhilarating ride. As I reached the bottom of the hill, I turned quickly into an empty parking lot, performed a few fun tricks and figure 8’s, then I zipped out to go up the large hill again.
I wasn’t invincible.
The next scene plays out in slow motion: I saw the red car headed for me, but it was too late. I froze. I had been going so fast out of the parking lot that I couldn’t stop in time. Neither could the driver behind the wheel.
I felt the sickening crunch of the fender hitting my bike tire which sent me flying into the air and onto the windshield. I can still see the terrified expressions of the boys who hit me. I wonder if they still remember mine?
I remember rolling off the windshield and landing on my knees. I was in shock. My face hurt and I remember feeling that my two front teeth had been chipped right down the center. My knees were scrapped up and I was shaking like an earthquake. I had just been hit by a car. How did that happen?
I can’t completely blame the driver who hit me, nor can I completely place all the blame on myself. The fact of the matter is anyone who is riding a bike should be doubly aware of their surroundings before zipping out of parking lots, driveways or intersecting streets.
At the same time, drivers need to constantly be on the lookout for bikers and pedestrians, especially children who dart out into the streets without looking. It can happen in an instant and lives can be forever changed or ended due to carelessness and distracted driving. Just because you are seen, doesn’t mean there is enough time to get out of the way or stop.
I was so lucky. I walked away with a scraped knee, a chipped tooth and a fear of driving in traffic that has stayed with me ever since that day, but I was alive. Not everyone lives to tell their story.
Mallory Goeke is a Communication Specialist in KDOT’s Office of Public Affairs


In the blink of an eye

Kendall Schoenekase, Miss Kansas
Photo credit - Kristy Belcher Photography
By Kendall Schoenekase 

     Two years ago, I was a victim in a car crash caused by texting and driving. I am not alone. Every year, over 4,000 teens are killed, and another 438,000 people are injured in crashes that are preventable. In an age where technology provides a variety of mobile devices, we are facing epidemic acts of negligence behind the wheel.
     The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined driving while texting is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. In fact, five seconds is the average time eyes are taken off the road when texting. At 55 miles per hour, it’s enough time to cover the length of a football field, virtually blindfolded, according to distraction.gov. With 660,000 drivers manipulating electronic devices while behind the wheel at any given moment, the life of every individual on, or around our roads can be impacted in an instant.
     My first-hand experience was not a tragic one, rather, it was an eye-opening moment, proving to me that NO ONE is safe when a driver is texting. A crash can happen at ANY moment, to ANY person. Just to lay it all out on the table, I, too, used to give into the temptation of technology, using my phone while driving. But I had to learn the hard way, experiencing how in the blink of an eye my life could have been stripped away.
     I pledged that day to never pick up my phone while behind the wheel again. In addition, I made it a personal mission to educate others on the dangers of such actions so they don’t have to learn the hard way. Not only did I experience this first hand as a victim, I relive those moments frequently as a registered nurse, often providing medical care to others hospitalized due to texting and driving crashes.
     As a survivor, a driver and a compassionate nurse, I am taking action to change these statistics and save lives. I am committed to defeating the most dangerous distraction that drivers face today with my three-step action plan - Educate, Engage, Legislate: The Kansan’s Care Campaign. Through the Kansans Care Campaign and my three-step action plan, I will continue to reach thousands around the country.
     Too many people have been affected by texting and driving. It is crucial for people of all ages to understand the risks, dangers, and consequences of their actions in order to change attitudes and behaviors regarding texting while driving.
Kendall Schoenekase was named Miss Kansas 2016 on June 11

Don’t Text #Just Drive

We are including the information below as one of our safety blogs - this important initiative just began and is focused on reducing texting and driving. We hope you join this vital safety effort as well as participate in this spirited competition between Kansas universities. A video news conference featuring state, business and university student leaders speaking on Don’t Text #Just Drive is available at www.ksinsurance.org/justdrive/media.php.

 Pledge contest focuses on no texting while driving
Kansas Commissioner of Insurance Ken Selzer, center, and other officials
speak at a news conference kicking off the Don't Text #Just Drive campaign.

Students and supporters of seven Kansas universities can advocate for friendly competition this fall while challenging themselves and others to stop texting and driving.

The Kansas Insurance Department, insurance companies and governmental sponsors have created the “Don’t Text #Just Drive” campaign to get university students and supporters to pledge to stop texting while driving.  “We think this is a great way to promote a worthy goal of saving lives,” said Ken Selzer, CPA, Kansas Commissioner of Insurance. “You pledge to not text and drive, you pick your school and you cast your vote. Alumni, supporters and students of these Kansas schools show their support for the campaign and participate in a friendly competition at the same time.”

Supporters of each participating university will be able to take the pledge two ways: Online or by text messaging. The number of pledges each school receives will be compared to its official fall 2016 enrollment to calculate a percentage. Results will be tabulated and the winner announced during university athletic contests this fall and winter.

Participating schools are - University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University, Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University, Washburn University and Emporia State University.

Voting began this week and ends Nov. 22. Pledge votes can be cast by texting 50555 and choosing one of the school keywords: KU, Wildcat, Shocker, Tiger, Gorilla, Ichabod, or Hornet. Voters can also go online at engage.att.com/icwkansas. More information about the campaign can be found at www.ksinsurance.org/justdrive.

Kendall Schoenekase, Miss Kansas 2016, is promoting the campaign as well. She has chosen “Stay Alive, Don’t Text and Drive” as her campaign issue during her reign as Miss Kansas. (Kendall is also participating in the safety blog series and will be featured next Monday, Sept. 26.)

On the other end of the radio

By Nicole Ascher
     One calm night, while working in the Kansas Highway Patrol dispatch center, we received a call from OnStar advising of a crash that just occurred involving a semi and a van.  A young mother who was not wearing her seat belt was distracted by talking on her cell phone. 
     She went left of center, left the roadway, went across the median and struck a semi.  It took troopers 20 minutes to arrive and they advised of one confirmed fatality.  It took another 20 minutes for the troopers to give a tag and ask for dispatch to locate a driver’s license photo for identification purposes. 
     Just as we pulled up the photo, the victim’s mother called in and advised that her daughter’s husband called her, and told her he was on the phone with the victim when she screamed and the cell phone disconnected. Once the family heard about the accident on the interstate, the victim’s mother and young child insisted on responding to the scene, to make sure her daughter was okay. The dispatcher told the mother to take the child home and she would have a trooper respond to her house to let her know what happened. Troopers were busy working the scene so dispatch attempted to get a chaplain to go to the mother’s residence. 
     The mother called the Kansas Highway Patrol dispatch center multiple times and the husband called the local dispatch multiple times.  An hour later, troopers were able to identify the victim from the driver’s license photo and responded with the chaplain to notify her mother and husband.  We do our very best to calm our callers and let them know that help is on the way. The dispatcher thought of her mom and wanted to tell her over the phone. 
     Death is one of the hardest things to deal with and families deserve to be treated with respect, passion, and professional comfort. Our hope is to give a victim’s family the gift of having someone to hold on to, or to make a phone call for someone who can come to the home and provide emotional support. During times like this, dispatchers feel helpless. Without visual information from the scene, we are left to our own imagination in an attempt to figure out what happened. Our main focus is helping people.  We do this as a team and help our fellow dispatchers when they are busy. An incident like this will stick with the dispatchers for several days. 
     Dispatchers experience trauma indirectly and with a high level of distress during and following an incident like this. One of the hardest things about being a dispatcher is the lack of closure and not knowing what happens after calls are dispatched.  At times this is a thankless job, but at the end of the day…you know you did your best and it is worth it.
Nicole Ascher is a Communication Specialist Supervisor with the Kansas Highway Patrol

Trauma in the corn fields

John LaGesse, a former BNSF conductor, shares this story told to him by a co-worker from a few years ago.

     On a bright, late-summer day, a local train was rolling down the tracks near Topeka, Kansas, in between two tall corn fields. This time of the year, the corn is very tall, perhaps 10 feet or more, so for a train crew it was like being in a tunnel where your vision is very limited.
     The train approached a farmer’s crossing – a private crossing that farmers use to get from one field to another. At private crossings, trains are not required to sound their whistles. The train was about 250 feet from the crossing, when suddenly a small pack of dogs runs across the track. This grabs the crew’s attention; something unusual is going on. Suddenly, a small girl on a tricycle appears pedaling across the tracks. Everyone in the cab gasps, but she is almost across the tracks when the rear wheel of the tricycle falls between the tracks and the planks and she is stuck.  
     Now, action in the cab explodes. The engineer places the train into emergency and blasts on his whistle. The brakeman runs out the front door of the cab onto the deck screaming at the girl to run. After a couple of seconds, she frees her tricycle and pedals off the tracks. The brakeman watches her pedal into the clear and then his head snaps to the left to see where she had come from. Now in slow motion, as his brain had sped up due to the adrenaline in his system, he sees a car sitting near the tracks with a woman at the wheel whose eyes were as big as saucers and she was obviously screaming.  But, more profoundly, next to her in the front seat is a child carrier with an infant in it and the infant’s mouth seemed huge as it was screaming as well, terrified by its mothers cries.
     The train finally slides to a stop, well past the crossing. There was no way they would have stopped in time. The brakeman sits down and is shaking so badly, he cannot light his cigarette. As a finale, the engineer walks out the back door of the engine onto the catwalk and vomits.
     No one was physically injured in this incident, but the trauma for all involved would last for a lifetime. This is why crossing safety is so important. Saving lives is just part of it –  preventing life-changing, horrible events is another.


Cyclists will be on the losing end

By Don Snyder
Don and his wife, Michelle
     I have been an avid bicycle rider most of my life, riding quite a lot when I was much younger, and then taking the sport back up after a long hiatus about 11 years ago. I thoroughly enjoy the sport, with the feeling of the open air and getting to see a lot of territory at a slower pace than what you can experience driving down the road in an automobile. During the past eight years, my cycling experiences have included participating in the annual “Biking Across Kansas” (BAK) ride in early June.  This is a wonderful way to see the scenery in our great state and to get together with friends you meet every year on the ride, plus get great exercise to keep fit.
     In early May of 2014, I was in the process of training to get ready for the BAK ride. The BAK route is different every year, getting to see a new part of the state and stop at new towns each night. The 2014 route was going to be special, riding from the very southwest corner of the state to the very northeast corner, and it was the 40th anniversary of the start of the BAK rides.  Needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating the ride that year!
     I do quite a bit of riding late in the evening due to a normal 8-5 work schedule, and because the temperatures are more moderate for riding late in the day. Because I often ride after dark, out on public roads, I have very good lights on my bike to make me more visible to car traffic. My wife and I were out riding after dark on a Friday evening four weeks to the day before the BAK ride was set to begin, riding on South Rock Road adjacent to McConnell AFB in southeast Wichita. 
     I do not recall exactly what happened next, as I ended up in the hospital for a week recovering from my injuries, but I was told later that we were struck from behind by a motorist who drifted to the side of the road and hit us. I was riding behind my wife and was struck first, and we are unsure if the impact launched me into my wife or if the car struck her also. The motorists said she was retrieving her phone from her child sitting in the back seat. Whatever actually happened, the motorist was not paying attention to where she was driving.
     Fortunately, I did not suffer any broken bones that immobilized me, even though I ended up going to the hospital. I did suffer from a concussion severe enough that I was not aware of where I was for three to four days, various cuts and bruises, and was very sore and stiff for a month after the accident. I also had nerve damage in my right arm that made my hand and fingers numb, that eventually had to be operated on to relocate a nerve that had been pinched. My wife has also had a number of issues with damage to her shoulder and knee that required surgery.
     We as bicyclists are aware of the potential for accidents when we ride, and try to watch out for each other when we ride in groups, watching for traffic coming up from behind. But a rider cannot watch behind themselves 100% of the time. Unfortunately we have to accept the fact that not all drivers are as attentive as they should be and that accidents do happen. 
    Since the time of my accident, I have been aware of several other accidents that have happened where the cyclist who was hit died of their injuries. This is a sad fact that someone who was out enjoying their favorite sporting event and staying fit was struck and injured or killed by an inattentive motorist. I was especially fortunate and blessed that my injuries were not more severe, and was able to return to cycling about six weeks after my accident. I have even been able to resume by BAK rides for the past two years, but mostly have no lingering effects from the accident.
     As you are out driving in your automobiles, please be aware that cyclists may be out on the same roads you are traveling on. Please be courteous and respectful of them and encourage your friends and families to do the same. Cyclists will be on the losing end of a car/bicycle accident, and we want to return home to our families just like highway workers in a work zone want to.

Don Snyder is the Wichita Metro Engineer for KDOT



The Cost of Distracted Driving

By Wayne Rugenstein

     Hi, my name is Wayne Rugenstein.  For the past 20 years it has been my job to drive. Driving is something that I have always enjoyed, probably way back to when I was 15 years old and I got my permit and a 1965 Mustang.
     The Mustang was something I had obsessed over for a few years, especially the early ones. My Dad and I worked on the Mustang to make sure it functioned as it should. Not only did I think they were just cool, but after getting my license it also represented freedom.
     Part of that freedom was driving myself and some friends to school. On a sunny March day, I was showing off the new stereo that my Dad and I put in. What I had failed to notice was that traffic had stopped in front of me and I was about 40 feet from a stationary vehicle and I was going almost 30 miles per hour.
     I hit a 1977 Chrysler Cordoba, a monster of a vehicle that I barely scratched with the front of my Mustang. I had been wearing my seat belt, as were my passengers, but they were lap belts only. I struck the steering wheel with my face and remembered seeing lots of blood. 
     Luckily my injuries were minor and my passengers and the other driver were ok as well. It was a blessing that this accident was literally in front of a fire station.  Unfortunately, my Mustang had taken the brunt of the collision and just about everything on the front of it needed replaced. 
     As I look back on this now after nearly 30 years has passed, I recognize that I was very lucky that no one was seriously hurt. I had made a substantial error, but lived to learn from it.
      As a professional driver with over 2 million safe miles, I see distracted drivers every day.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), in 2014 there were 3,179 fatalities and 431,000 injuries caused by distracted driving. Many causes of distracted driving include using smart phones, watching movies, reading, and yes, even adjusting a radio.
     I see my job differently today than I used to. The commercial vehicle I drive for my employer is filled with freight that our customers trust will be delivered on time, intact and damage free. I also must recognize the symptoms of distracted drivers and drive sort of like a sponge, soaking up the mistakes or poor decisions of those drivers to ensure that I do not add to those NHTSA numbers.
     My hope is that you will do the same with me to “Put the Brakes on Fatalities.” The loss of a life or an injury due to distracted driving is a cost that is too high to pay for reading that text message or searching for your favorite song. 

Wayne Rugenstein is a Kansas Road Team Member and also a driver for FedEx.

SAFE is the goal

By Sandy Horton
     In early 2008, Dave Corp with the Kansas Traffic Safety Office met with me regarding the low seatbelt compliance rate for Crawford County.  At the time I was Sheriff of Crawford County and surprised to hear we had the lowest compliance rate of 53% overall and only 61% of teen drivers buckling up. This information came from traffic surveys conducted in 20 of the most populated counties in Kansas.  
     From that conversation an idea was born and after several meetings with school administrators and students, SAFE (Seatbelts Are For Everyone) was created in all six of the Crawford County high schools serving 1,280 students. 
     Students quickly bought into the program and essentially built SAFE from the ground up including picking out the name. The pledge card used now statewide was actually designed by a Pittsburg High School student. The students were soon taught how to take the seatbelt survey from the school parking lot and present safety messages to the student body. SAFE soon expanded to other school districts and continues to grow every year.
     In 2012, my last year as sheriff before retiring and continuing in my position of Executive Director of the Kansas Sheriffs Association, the teen seatbelt compliance rate in Crawford County had increased to 88%. There were 33 rollover accidents that year involving teen drivers and passengers. Of those 33, only 3 were unbuckled with only 1 reportable injury.   
In 2014, the Kansas Sheriffs Association (KSA) adopted SAFE as one of its public safety initiatives which continues today.

Sandy Horton retired as Crawford County Sheriff and is currently the Executive Director of the Kansas Sheriffs Association