Thursday, January 26, 2017

Give them room: Roadside crashes are preventable

The lights are flashing and the sirens are wailing. Whether it’s an emergency vehicle, law enforcement car or a KDOT employee, your response should always be the same. Move over and give them room.

Earlier this week, two crashes involving Kansas Highway Patrol vehicles and officers occurred on two different days and in two different areas.  Both incidents required temporary road closures for clean-up and investigations.

“Anytime one of these events occurs it hits home pretty hard,” Stephen La Row, a KHP Technical Trooper, said. “It’s an eye opening experience for everyone involved and for anyone that works on the side of the road for that matter.”

La Row said that while these crashes are not an uncommon occurrence, they can be prevented.

“What (motorists) should be doing is paying attention to the task at hand,” La Row said.
“And that should be driving.  We can minimize our distractions such as cell phones and other electronic devices that are needless when driving a car.” 

Steve Baalman, a KDOT Area Four Engineer in Topeka, said that because of our connected society and the need for some people to use their cell phones at all times has made it noticeably scarier in work zones.

“We too often see folks with their faces buried in their cell phones,” Baalman said. “Obviously with the texting, it’s very spooky for us and it’s very unsafe.”

Both KHP and KDOT have experienced tragedy when workers were killed when working along the highways.

“The last trooper killed in the line of duty was doing a roadside inspection,” La Row said.

 “We are looking out for all our roadside workers. We all want to do our jobs and we want to do them safely. We want to be able to go home.”

“My goal is that all of the employees who work with me and work for me go home at the end of the day.” Baalman said. “I did lose one of my employees last year on U.S.  24. And although it wasn’t  work-related, it still hurt. It wasn’t the first time. I lost one of our EO Specialists on an accident on K-10. And both incidents were caused by inattentive cross over accidents. It hurts.  Every time I drive over certain sections of K-10, I remember that one of my guys lost his life there and so did his wife and baby daughter; on Father’s Day no less.”

Baalman said that despite the risks, working along the highways is worth it.

“The work keeps us coming back,” Baalman said. “I presume most folks are like me. We like the work, the service and the sense of accomplishment.  It makes it worthwhile for those folks who are driving it every day.”

Kansas enacted the Move Over Law in 2006.

“The fines are very steep as well they should be,” La Row said. “The law states that you have to move over and if traffic doesn’t allow you to, then the minimum you should do is slow down. That just keeps all our roadside workers safe.”

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