Stay safe during the holidays

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Local and state law enforcement officials are urging motorists to practice safety on roadways this holiday season, particularly after three local people were killed in separate car accidents within the last few weeks.

This time of year, more people are traveling, more impaired drivers are encountered, and winter weather is always a threat, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Bourbon County Undersheriff Bill Martin said local vehicle accidents typically increase this time of year.

"There are a lot of holiday parties taking place," Martin said. "We just ask that you call somebody, a designated driver to drive that person home who's had too much to drink ... accidents do increase."

Impaired drivers are dangerous any time of year, but with the winter holidays, more instances of impaired driving could occur due to Christmas and New Year's parties and other celebrations with family and friends, according to the KHP.

Since Thanksgiving, KHP has displayed red ribbons on agency-owned vehicles to show the agency's zero tolerance policy toward impaired driving. The ribbons, which are displayed through New Year's Day, also memorialize the lives lost due to alcohol-related tragedies.

Martin said he advises that motorists not talk on cell phones, send text messages, or use some other type of handheld device while driving, which could lead to accidents.

"People are more distracted these days, and they're not paying attention causing the vehicle to drift," Martin said. "It's a cause of more aggressive driving ... People look down to finish a text, and they slow down, then speed up or drift right or left."

Accidents are also often caused by drivers who are in a hurry to get somewhere and feel the need to travel faster than the posted legal speed limit, Martin added.

"Today's society is always on the go," he said. "We ask that they practice time management a little better and don't speed when they're late being somewhere so they arrive at their destination safe."

Bourbon County Sheriff Ron Gray said he also had a few safety tips for people who are going to be traveling throughout the holiday season.

"It's important to use safety seats for children," he said. "Slow down, take time and be aware of your surroundings ... There is always deer and other animals on the roads ... We do live in a rural community. Drive appropriate to road conditions."

According to information provided by KHP, during the Christmas reporting period in 2006, there were 698 total crashes, 143 injury crashes, one fatal crash, 45 alcohol-related crashes, and 15 alcohol-related injury crashes. During the New Year's reporting period in 2007-08, there were 689 total crashes, 143 injury crashes, four fatal crashes, 47 alcohol-related crashes, 15 alcohol-related injury crashes, and two alcohol-related fatal crashes.

Winter weather can create substantial problems on the highways throughout the winter months. This presents a challenge for motorists trying to travel during the holiday season. The Kansas Department of Transportation recently unveiled the new KanDrive travel information portal, which can be accessed at www.KanDrive.org. Drivers can also access 511 for road conditions, closures, work zones and weather information, according to KDOT.

Motorists can also contribute to a safer traveling experience by observing the following tips provided by KHP:

* Prepare vehicles for winter travel by replacing wiper blades, ensuring tires have good tread, and checking the vehicle's fluids, exhaust system and other mechanical equipment.

* Clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors and lights, and use headlights for visibility.

* Accelerate and brake gently, and increase following distance between other vehicles in adverse weather.

* Steer in the intended direction if the vehicle loses traction and begins to slide.

* Allow for more time when traveling to and from work, home, school or other activities.

* Always wear a seat belt and properly secure children in the appropriate safety seats.

* Do not use cruise control when traveling in wet or snowy conditions.

* Drivers who are involved in a non-injury crash that involves non-hazardous materials, if it is safe to do so, should move the vehicle out of the lane of traffic to protect themselves as well as other motorists.

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