By Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan. 6
The death toll on Kansas’ highways dropped to an all-time low in 2013, which is great news for almost everyone but the 344 people who died in traffic accidents on the state’s highways last year.
That might sound somewhat cold, but a report that fewer people are dying in highway collisions also should serve as a reminder that operating a motor vehicle remains a dangerous practice, regardless of how comfortable we have become with assuming the associated risks.
Fewer is better, but continued declines in the annual fatality statistics would be even better. Making that happen should be the goal of everyone who drives or rides in a vehicle.
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, highway traffic fatalities dropped significantly in 2013, to 344 from 405 in 2012, and were 41 fewer than the previous all-time low, the 385 traffic deaths recorded in 2008. The high mark for highway fatalities in Kansas, 780, was established in 1969, when seat belts still were considered an inconvenience, airbags were a thing of the future and what passed for a child’s seat in a vehicle was a dangerous contraption.
To be sure, vehicles, highways and child safety restrains are safer now, but there’s no reason to become satisfied with 344 traffic fatalities annually. And responsibility for significant improvement from the new all-time low rests with the motorists who travel the state’s highways.
Kansas Transportation Secretary Mike King says the state is dedicated to engineering even safer highways for the future. Automobile designers and engineers also are doing their part — some vehicles today are equipped with technology that can detect danger and apply the brakes before the driver can react.
Some drivers, however, aren’t doing their part.
KDOT’s report on 2013 fatalities didn’t indicate how many fatal collisions involved drunken drivers or drivers who were texting or otherwise using a hand-held cellphone.
That’s not to assume alcohol or phone use was a factor in a majority of the fatal accidents, but certainly some of them involved those hazards and otherwise inattentive drivers.
When someone decides to slip behind a steering wheel, there is nothing in world more important at that time than operating the vehicle in a safe manner. If we all remember that, and push distractions aside, highway fatalities will continue to decline.