Safety comes natural for Merlin Eck, KTA’s safety coordinator. For 39 year’s Merlin has promoted safety and educated others on being safe. Here he shares advice, geared toward the traveler, on the upcoming severe weather season.
This week is National Severe Weather Preparedness week. It’s the week weather experts use to remind us to think ahead about how we’ll handle rain, hail, high winds, lightening, flash floods and tornadoes.
For many, severe weather is commonplace since Kansas is located in what’s commonly known as ‘tornado alley.’ This familiarity can cause us to let our guard down and not prepare adequately. I urge you to take time now to get ready for whatever weather may occur. Here are a few ideas to consider when it comes to traveling.
Make sure you’re ready for driving in severe weather.
• Prepare (or re-stock) a survival kit for your car. Include water, high-protein snack, first aid kit, flashlight, blanket, highway map to follow storm’s movement, extra prescription medicines and a list of emergency contacts.
• Check your windshield wiper blades. If you can see cracks or their edges don’t feel smooth replace them. While you’re at it refill the wiper fluid.
• Before traveling, fill your gas tank, clean your windows and lights, and charge your cell phone.
Weather changes rapidly so it’s important to stay informed. Be aware of the weather and road conditions before you go by:
• Getting weather reports via radio, television and the web for your current area and the location you’ll be driving;
• Checking Kansas road conditions at www.kandrive.org.
Part of being informed is understanding terms weather forecasters use. Here are a few to know:
• “Severe Thunderstorm” is a storm that produces hail at least one inch in diameter, winds of 58 mph or strong, or has produced a tornado.
• “Watch” means conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms and/or tornadoes.
• “Warning” means a storm (or tornado) is occurring or imminent based upon radar.
Drive with Caution
Once you’re on the road use your seat belts and give your full attention to driving. If the sky turns dark, tune into a local radio station for weather updates for where you are. When caught in a storm, reduce your speed and keep these things in mind:
• When your windshield wipers are on, your headlights (low beams) should be on too.
• If it’s raining so hard you can’t see, pull well over on the shoulder and turn on your emergency flashers while waiting for the rain to subside.
• Your vehicle provides better protection from lightening than being in the open.
• Do not drive through flooded areas even if the water appears to be shallow. A mere six inches of water can cause loss of control or possible stalling. If your vehicle stalls, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground.
• In high winds, be extra cautious around larger vehicles and those towing trailers. Keep both hands on the wheel as you may need to quickly correct your steering.
If you find yourself in an area under a tornado warning, your safest place is inside a sturdy building, preferably underground. For those traveling on the Kansas Turnpike, you may seek shelter at one of our six service areas. Limited shelter space, which can accommodate just a few people, is also available at each staffed toll plaza.
If you can’t get inside, please do not seek shelter under a highway bridge. Wind blows stronger under the overpass due to the wind-tunnel effect. Flying debris pulled under the bridge can pummel you, and the strong winds may pull you out.
The American Red Cross recommends two options when shelter is not available. Your choice is determined by your specific circumstances.
• Stay in your car with your seatbelt on. Put your head below window level and cover it with your hands or a blanket.
• If you can get to an area lower than the roadway, lie flat on the ground and cover your head with your hands. Keep in mind, heavy rain can cause ditches to flood and debris often settles in these lower areas.
By preparing in advance, staying informed and driving with caution, you’ll be in a much better position to handle the effects of severe weather and stay safe.
\Ron Komp, KTA Highway Maintenance Superintendent and Jeff Vidricksen, KTA Highway Maintenance Foreman have seen their share of winter storms during their combined 40 years with the Turnpike. Here are five things they want all drivers to know when deciding to travel during a winter storm.
Keeping the roads clear during the winter is an important part of our jobs, but it is also the most stressful. It’s risky out there due to so many factors we can’t predict or control. Of course, the weather itself is unpredictable, but so are the drivers. Each season we see some who just don't know how to handle a winter storm. They needlessly risk their life and the lives of others. Here are five things we’d say if we could talk to them.
1. Slow down
We know you’re in a hurry and might be running late, but please take your time. We really want you to get to your destination safely. That’s why we’re out. We’re trying to help you and make your trip as safe as possible.
2. Know before you go
Be aware of the condition of the roads you will travel so you make an informed decision on whether or not to drive. It’s easy to check Kansas road conditions using the 511 system. Simply dial 511, visit kandrive.org or use your mobile at 511mm.ksdot.org/.
3. Stay home
When the storm’s on top of us or the road conditions are bad, just stay home. We know this isn’t possible all the time, but if an option, choose it. The roads are dangerous enough, and with the unpredictability of other drivers, why risk getting into an accident?
4. If you must drive, go slow and pay attention
We’ll say it again, slow down, take your time and stay focused on driving. With the uncertainty of road conditions and how others will drive, you need to go slow and give 100% of your attention to driving.
5. Stay back
Please maintain distance – at least five car lengths – behind the plow. As a driver you know the stress of driving during a snowstorm and how hard it is to see. The same applies to us and it’s even worse when we’re plowing. It’s the most stressful part of our job! Besides the poor road conditions, we worry about unpredictable drivers. It’s not uncommon for our plows and trucks to get hit by vehicles trying to pass us. It’s hard for us to see you behind us, and when you pass it’s nearly impossible. Please be patient, stay back and don't pass. Besides, you really don’t want to pass us when the road ahead is not cleared and much more dangerous.
As the 2014 Kansas legislative session began, Mike King, Transportation Secretary and Director of the Kansas Turnpike shared an update on transportation in Kansas. Here is an excerpt from that update pertaining to the partnership between the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
I’m very pleased to tell you that since the 2013 Legislature formalized the partnership between KDOT and the Kansas Turnpike Authority, innovation teams of staff from both agencies have identified more than $17 million in savings through shared resources, project coordination, co-location and more. We have conducted a Business Roundtable, hosted the first Kansas Transportation Summit and are organizing a freight advisory committee. We will continue to be creative and innovative as we build and maintain a transportation system that is world class. Together, we are one voice for Kansas transportation. And together, we have forged a partnership that is built for the growth of Kansas.
The Built for the Growth of Kansas update, in its entirety, is found here.
Holiday traffic on the Kansas Turnpike is nothing new to Captain Joe Bott, Commander of the Kansas Highway Patrol Troop G, and the other 50 troopers assigned to the toll road. Here Captain Bott encourages travelers to drive safely, especially during the Holidays, by offering three simple tips.
With the Holiday season in full swing, I’m reminded of how busy everyone gets this time of year. Troop G of the Kansas Highway Patrol is no exception. I’d like to say we’re busier due to the increased number of travelers, but that’s not entirely true.
People have so much more on their minds – shopping, family events and parties. Often times when they get behind the wheel, their mind is not on driving. Thus, more traffic violations occur, accidents happen and lives are altered. Unfortunately, many of these situations could have been prevented.
Excessive speed is often a contributing factor. Many people think going faster will get them to their destination quicker. While technically true, the amount of time gained by speeding is minimal. Consider this, you must drive 100 miles at 85 mph (10 miles faster than the Turnpike’s speed limit) to gain just 10 minutes. Plus, the longer you speed the greater the likelihood you’ll be stopped by a Trooper. Then you’ll lose the time you wanted to gain and you’ll be out several hundred in fines/court costs. In the long run, speeding just isn’t worth it.
Holiday tip #1: Drive the speed limit and allow adequate time to reach your destination.
Another consideration involving speed is how quickly things happen. The speed limit on the Kansas Turnpike is 75 mph. At this rate you will cover the length of a football field in just under three seconds. That doesn’t leave much time to react to a dangerous situation ahead of you, especially if part of those three seconds are used to glance at your cell phone or you’re distracted for some other reason. Driving is not the time to multi-task.
Holiday tip #2: Stay focus on driving; don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
Besides excessive speed and distraction, holiday celebrations play a big role in traffic incidents. The obvious problem is driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Don’t do it. If you are impaired, keep yourself and others – both in your car and on the roadway – safe by not driving.
Likewise, it is everyone’s responsibility to not let impaired people drive and to be watchful for careless, erratic driving as you go about your holiday travel. If you feel someone may be impaired, be on the safe side and report it. On the Kansas Turnpike it’s as simple as calling *KTA. Your call could prevent an accident and possibly save lives.
Holiday tip #3: Don’t drive or let others drive while impaired; report possible impaired driving.
By following these three tips, and buckling up, chances are good your holidays will be safe and uneventful. You and your loved ones will spend time together as you intended, laughing and having fun. From all of us at the Kansas Turnpike, we wish you safe travels and a happy holiday season.