Thursday, December 9, 2021

KDOT’s new clear zone program enhances safety


Under the new clear zone program, South central Kansas has a pilot clear zone project under design. The project, in the survey stage, is on U.S. 160/U.S. 183 in Comanche County. The project covers a little over a 5-mile stretch - from the K-1/U.S. 160/U.S. 183 junction north to Fourth Street in Coldwater. The basic scope is to widen shoulders, do grading, extend culverts and replace drainage pipes. (Photo Credit: 

By Tim Potter
South Central Kansas Public Affairs Manager

The Wheat State has its share of rural two-lane highways, and KDOT has a new initiative to improve some of them. It’s called the Clear Zone Safety Improvement Program, which KDOT created to focus on highways that don’t have enough right of way to widen or add shoulders and improve the clear zone.

Some might not be familiar with the term “clear zone.” The Federal Highway Administration defines a clear zone as “an unobstructed, traversable roadside area that allows a driver to stop safely, or regain control of a vehicle that has left the roadway.”

KDOT’s clear zone initiative is a $10 million annual program aimed mostly at roadways KDOT refers to as D and E routes.

According to Chris Herrick, KDOT Director of Planning and Development, the program was created to address serious-injury and fatal crashes on some of the state’s lower-volume highways with limited usable shoulders or no shoulders.

“This is part of KDOT’s effort to move toward a more systemic approach to safety,” said Herrick. “A systemic approach looks for road characteristics that may lead to higher crash frequency and severity. This is an example of field and headquarters personnel working together to address a safety need.”

The first step, Herrick said, is to purchase right of way and grade the highway to improve the shoulder width and side slopes. This allows a motorist who leaves the highway more opportunity to recover.

The next step is to pave the improved shoulder when KDOT does a light maintenance job, known as 1R, on the corridor.

Another key part of improving the clear zone is extending structures or moving obstructions farther away from the travel lanes.

Herrick said the program helps address roadway-departure crashes – one of the top contributing factors in fatal crashes.

Projects are being sought statewide, according to Herrick. So far, requests have been received from District Five and District Two in north central Kansas.

“As we proceed with the program, we will be making tweaks and communicating our project expectations to the district so they know exactly what type of projects we are looking to do,” Herrick said.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

Chilly weather is setting in and the thought of waking up to drive in a frigid vehicle before work can leave many feeling cold.

Before you turn that key, be aware of your surroundings. If you are in an enclosed place with no air circulation you could be putting yourself at risk from carbon monoxide gas exposure.

Also known as “the silent killer” carbon monoxide (or CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can be dangerous if precautions are not taken to avoid poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning year. In that same time frame, more than 20,000 visit emergency rooms and 4,000 are hospitalized.

Symptoms from CO poisoning can be easily confused with the flu. The most common symptoms include: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, chest pain, confusion and vomiting.

Here are some ways you can prevent CO exposure while you are operating or inside a vehicle:
  •  Most drivers understand that starting your car in an enclosed garage is not a good idea. But starting a car with a garage attached to your home could put you in danger as well.
  • Similarly, once you start your car back out immediately and close the garage door. 
  • Be sure to have your exhaust system checked by a mechanic every year. A small leak in the system could cause CO to build up in your car.
  • Clear the tailpipe of any ice or snow during inclement weather. If the exhaust pipe is blocked, CO could build up in your car as well.
  • Keyless ignition vehicles are growing in popularity. They should always be checked to make sure they are turned off. The car could still be running, even if the keys are not inside.
  • Keep the doors locked, and keep children away from the keys. Never leave a child unattended where they could have access to the car and never leave them inside a car alone.
It is a busy time of year, and mistakes do happen. It is a good idea to purchase a carbon monoxide detector for you home just in case. Most injuries and deaths occur while the victims are sleeping.

For more information on how to prevent CO poisoning in your home or work check out the CDC’s safety guidelines here.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Halloween Safety Tips

It's spooky season! If your little ones are out gathering goodies this weekend, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:


  • Turn on your headlights to improve visibility - Even in the day time.
  • Watch for trick-or-treaters on curbs, streets and medians. They could be wearing darker costumes so keep your eyes peeled.
  • Slow down in residential areas.  Give yourself extra time to react should a trick-or-treater dash into the road.
  • Be sure to scan both sides of the street as you drive. Be prepared  to stop for trick-or-treaters.

Trick or Treaters:

 If you are young at heart and will be taking to the streets to collect some goodies, there are a few things you need to know:
  • Let your parents or guardians know where you will be going. Create a route and stick to it. 
  • Follow safety rules, and look both ways before crossing the streets. Don’t cross between vehicles.
  • Trick or treat in a group. It can be more entertaining and safer. Younger children should be with a responsible adult or youth.
  • Be bright at night - ensure that that your costume can be seen by drivers. Enhance your costumes with reflective tape or glow sticks.
  • You should be able to see without difficulty. Don’t wear bulky masks or head gear. Consider using non-toxic face make up or paint.
  • Carry a flashlight inside your Halloween bucket or bag so you can see where you are going. DON’T shine it into the eyes of drivers.
  • Stay on sidewalks - if you must walk in the street, walk on the left side, facing traffic.

We hope you have a happy Halloween! 

Monday, October 11, 2021

For crash victims’ families, the moment of truth about the worst

Part of a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper’s job is notifying next of kin when a person dies in a car crash. One trooper remembers a mother collapse in a doorway. Another caught a mother crumpling to the floor. This is the final story in the four-part series involving KHP death notifications. 

 Watch Trooper Wright's video and read the story below.

‘They know why you’re there’

Technical Trooper Nick Wright

Technical Trooper Nick Wright recalls a crash where a 17-year-old had been killed because a 16-year-old crossed into his lane and struck him head-on just before he was to exit. She was allegedly speeding and texting.

It was Wright’s first death notification in which he was the lead investigator. What Wright remembers most is the follow-up investigation a day or two later at a home where some of the 17-year-old’s family had gathered. Maybe 15 people joined around a dining room table – all of their eyes on him. He remembers the father saying he couldn’t sleep. The father was obsessed about how the girl came to be where she was when she lost control. Wright recalls them being a loving, forgiving family.

Now, every time Wright drives past the cross put up near where the two cars collided – it’s a neatly weeded roadside memorial, “I think about it,” he said.

In another crash, a young man had become intoxicated and was found in his wrecked SUV at the bottom of a steep embankment. After he died, Wright and his patrol partner pulled up outside the mother’s home. She was standing at the screen door. When she saw the troopers, she collapsed to her knees. “They know why you’re there,” he said of those moments.

He introduces himself the same way every time: “Hey, I’m Trooper Wright. Can I come inside?”

With the grieving mother, he remembers getting her tissue from the kitchen and maybe a glass of water. Still, years later, he can see her home. “I could almost draw the inside of her house.”

He was relieved when a chaplain showed up to help comfort her. He explains that when giving death notifications, he and another trooper go in as a pair. “We kind of pick who’s saying the words before we go there.” He’s been with the KHP for 16 years now. So he feels like he should offer to say “the words” to the loved ones if he’s with a less experienced trooper. It’s part of his personality, he said. He’s a greeter at church. “I’m kind of a people person.”

About “the words”: “You cut straight to the chase,” he said. If he’s notifying a young woman that her father has died in a crash, for example, he’ll say it as clearly and clinically as possible: “I’m really sorry to tell you, but your dad’s been killed in a crash.”

The reactions vary. Some loved ones pass out, some fall, some sob, some deny it, some get angry. Anything can happen.

 “You learn to talk to people,” he said. “You are greatly affecting these people’s lives.”

He remembers hugging a family before he left. Most people in law enforcement, he noted, don’t hug on the job. Still, he said, “You can’t be robotic. You just have to be a person to them. You are delivering the worst news to this person. There’s no good way you can do it. … I remember choking back tears.”

Friday, October 8, 2021

Finding new ways to cycle safely

 By Don Snyder

Don Snyder at a cycling event.

Five years ago, I wrote an article about my personal experience with roadway safety after others heard my story about surviving a car-bicycle crash I was involved in. That story detailed what had occurred on a late evening ride in May 2014 when my wife and I were struck from behind by an inattentive motorist. Fortunately, we both survived that incident, although there were lingering effects from our injuries for some time after that unfortunate event (read 2016 story here).

Now I’m sharing an update to my current status as an avid cyclist, what experiences I have had and what changes I may have made since this accident.

I suppose as a natural progression of my cycling activities, I have become involved with other types of events, as well as becoming more involved with group rides. Many may be aware that the gravel riding scene has grown rapidly, and I too have become more active in these types of rides. Of course, there is typically much less traffic on gravel roads than on paved roadways, so naturally less chance for conflicts with motorized traffic. The lower speeds vehicles travel on unpaved roads also gives more time for both drivers and cyclists to react to each other’s presence.

 I have also discovered a great group of fellow cyclists to ride with on shorter evening rides and longer weekend events. Travelling in a larger group makes all of us more visible than we would be on solo rides, and vehicular traffic seems to be more conscious of passing our larger groups more cautiously.

 There are also more options these days for locations to ride that are not on major roadways. The City of Wichita and the surrounding areas have a pretty decent network of both paved and unpaved riding trails that cyclists can utilize where we do not have to be as cognizant of other road users.

I still do some paved road cycling where I am riding in the same type of environment where I had my accident seven years ago, but I make every effort to be aware of vehicles on the same roads I am on. I have used a rear-view mirror that is attached to my helmet for many years so I can see what is approaching from behind. I also choose not to have any audio devices playing while I ride so I am more aware of the sounds of others on the roadway.

So, in conclusion, I did not let the accident I was involved with take away what has become my favorite pastime, and of course I was very blessed that my injuries did not create permanent debilitating physical issues. Cycling will always be part of my lifestyle as long as I am physically able to ride, and the lessons I have learned while riding have made me more safety conscious so I can continue these activities. 

Motorists and cyclists both have to share the same roadways to get to our destinations, and we all need to be aware of others on our journeys and show the same level of respect we want for ourselves.


Don Snyder is the KDOT Metro Engineer in Wichita



Thursday, October 7, 2021

My grandson is safe thanks to his car seat

By Brenda White

In July 2017, my husband, Marvin, was taking our three-year-old grandson, Macen, to daycare for the afternoon. It was a rainy day, around noon, on a Topeka city street when a ¾-ton pickup truck lost control on a curve and slammed into my husband’s car. 

Our grandson was in his car seat on the opposite side of the car where the majority of the impact occurred. Even though my husband had severe injuries, our grandson remained safely in the car seat with minor cuts from the seat belt and from glass. 

They transported him in the ambulance with my husband. Emergency personnel took our grandson in the fully intact car seat in the ambulance to the local hospital.  He was checked out and released that same day. 

I firmly believe the car seat saved Macen from more severe injuries. My husband was also able to focus on talking to Macen in the car until others were there to help get them out. 

Properly installed and used car seats for children save lives. I truly believe this. Macen is proof of that and thriving as a seven-year-old boy now. 

Brenda and her husband reside in Topeka.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The importance of good driving decisions

By Casey Simoneau

Casey Simoneau (third from right), with his family

It was an unexpected call when asked to do a follow-up to the blog that I wrote nine years ago. Many lives have been changed since that time, including my own. I no longer work for the Kansas Highway Patrol, but I am running my own business and serving as Mayor of Baldwin City. However, past experiences always stay and impact your future decisions, and my work for the Kansas Highway Patrol is no exception to the rule.

As my life may have taken on a new direction, the memories from my time in law enforcement still impact me even more now than before. When I wrote the previous story, I had one child. But now I have three children and one on the way. I still find myself driving the same highways I once patrolled and continue to be reminded of the fatalities I had worked in those specific areas. I use those moments to explain to my children the importance of good decisions. 

Each person has decisions to make, and sometime those decisions have a positive or negative impact on another person in our communities. Unfortunately, often times the decision to drive while impaired, with alcohol or drugs, have a more immediate impact on families, friends and communities. Those decisions lead to memories and pain that is never forgotten.  

I still drive K-10 and see the cable barriers that were installed after a traffic accident that I worked involving young children. I often tell the story of a sibling of the deceased child. I remember her sitting on my lap on the days following the accident and giving her a Trooper Bear. Those memories do not leave me.

A community came together and mourned the loss of the child and rallied around the family to create change so that it did not happen to another family. Cable barriers were installed shortly after to help lessen the opportunity of that type of event occurring again.   TOGETHER this community helped to save lives.

This is the most profound memory of all the fatalities that I worked. I often find myself thinking about what could have been. The sister would be nearing her teenage years now and all she has is a distant memory of her brother. She will never have the same experiences as others. She will not remember fighting with her brother, celebrating with her brother or snuggling her brother. A community lost the opportunity to see a child grow. All these lives changed over a person’s bad decision. Often poor decisions can be made right, but this one can never be undone.

Please think before you drive as you do not know the negative impacts of your decision to your family, friends and community. It may be a decision that cannot be made right and can leave many lives changed forever.

Casey Simoneau is the Mayor of Baldwin City

Link to previous blog here