SAFETY PAYS ON EXPRESSWAYS
First there was the Pony Express. Then, American Express. And of course, we've all heard of Federal Express. By definition: express means fast, direct, making few stops, characterized by speed or velocity. So it's no wonder that when it came to building roads designed for fast driving, they were named "expressways."
Let's take a moment to differentiate between an expressway and a freeway. A freeway is typically an Interstate highway. On a freeway, there are no intersections, no traffic signals, no curb- cuts and, there is full access control. Vehicles enter and leave the roadway only by way of on-ramps and off-ramps with acceleration and deceleration lanes. Interstate 70 is by definition a freeway.
An expressway is a four-lane divided highway with partial access control. You will experience intersections, but not entrances. You may also encounter pedestrians and slow-moving vehicles, and maybe even interchanges.
When cars were first introduced and driving was limited to short distances and considered a "luxury" for most Americans, there was no need for speed limits. In fact the law read that speeds should be "reasonable and prudent."
With the inception of the Interstate, or freeway system in Kansas, when the Turnpike was built in the late 1950's, it became necessary to post speed limits on some Kansas roadways. In fact, from 1957 to 1970, the Turnpike was posted at a maximum of 80 m.p.h. That changed to 75 during the day and 70 at night from 1970 through 1974.
With the energy crisis and gasoline shortage in the mid-70's, the federal government took action to help alleviate the problem by enacting a nationwide 55 m.p.h. limit on all highways in 1974. A provision in the 1988 Transportation Appropriations Act allowed routes connected to Interstates in rural areas and built to interstate standards to be signed at 65 m.p.h. and routes like I-70, I-35 and K-10 in Kansas were changed to the higher limit. In 1996, the mandatory speed limit law was again changed on the federal level to allow states to set their own speed limits. In Kansas that now means:
- 55 m.p.h. on county and township roads and some state highways
- 65 m.p.h. on improved 2-lane state highways
- 70 m.p.h. on Interstates and 4-lane divided highways, such as expressways, as designated and posted by KDOT
TIPS "EXPRESSLY" FOR YOU
- Obey posted speed limits, which normally is 70 m.p.h.
- Obey all stop signs and signals, and remember that because you're driving faster on an expressway than you would on a typical city street, it will take you longer to slow down and stop for signals at intersections.
- Be alert for intersections that can be obscured by hills or curves, giving the driver little reaction time.
- Be aware of sight lines. Trees, brush, signs or structures alongside the intersection can block sight lines and may keep on-coming drivers from seeing you.
- When you approach an expressway from a side road, and you're planning to cross the expressway, remember:
- Vehicles on the expressway are moving faster than they seem.
- Don't act based on another car's turn signal. Don't assume the vehicle coming toward you on the expressway is going to slow or turn before it gets to you, just because it's signaling. Wait until the car has actually begun to make the turn.
- Pay attention to "One Way" signs, "Divided Highway" signs and "Do Not Enter" signs at the intersection. An expressway is a divided highway and it is essential that if you are turning, you turn into the correct lanes.
- Remember, your car is equipped with turn signals. Use them...for turning corners and for changing lanes. You can be ticketed if you don't. Even worse, you endanger yourself and others in your car and on the road.
- When it's raining, snowing or foggy, turn on your headlights. This safety precaution enables other drivers to see you more easily in conditions that hamper visibility.
- Wind can affect a driver's control, especially with high-profile vehicles like trucks, trailers and vans. When it's really windy, slow down.
- When driving on an expressway, use caution when approaching an intersection with traffic on the side-road. Don't assume that the vehicle on the side-road will wait until you pass the intersection before entering the highway; sometimes they won't.
- Be aware that some expressways have both freeway-style interchanges and standard intersections. The interchanges are at locations with heavier traffic.
Because you can travel at up to 70 miles an hour on an expressway, it's easy to forget that there may be traffic signals, stop signs and emergency vehicles that require you to stop. It's a mistake that can prove tragic.
- You'll encounter traffic signals along expressways wherever major side streets intersect with them, and a traffic study has indicated that signals are warranted. Stop signs are common, also. Be on the alert for them.
- Resist the urge to run a yellow light. Because you're traveling at higher speeds on expressways, it's tempting to think, "I can make it before it turns red."
- It is permissible to make a right turn on a red light after coming to a complete stop. But drivers must yield the right of way to any pedestrians attempting to cross the intersection before proceeding.
- Red stop signs can appear from the sides of yellow school buses. All vehicles must stop for any school bus that has red lights flashing and the stop sign extended. If the expressway has a median or wall separating the roadway, on-coming traffic is not required to stop.
- When an emergency vehicle is traveling on a roadway and flashing its warning lights and/or sounding its siren, state law requires all vehicles traveling on the same roadway as the emergency vehicle to pull as far to the right as possible and stop.
- When an emergency vehicle is flashing its warning lights and parked on the right shoulder of an expressway or freeway, drivers are required by law to approach cautiously and pull into the left lane-if it is safe to do so. If drivers can't change lanes safely, or are on a two-lane highway, they must slow down while maintaining a safe speed so as not to impede other traffic.
EXPRESSWAY BREAKDOWNS: Some Do's & Don'ts
What if your vehicle breaks down on an expressway? First and foremost, do not leave your vehicle stopped in a traffic lane. Get off the road by pulling to the right shoulder if at all possible. Be especially careful at night when there is a greater chance of being hit from behind. Stay calm.
- Be sure you're far enough off the road so you can open the door without stepping out into traffic.
- Turn on your emergency flashers.
- Raise your vehicle's hood. This is a nationally- recognized distress sign that communicates your need for assistance. Also, display any signs you may have that indicate you need help (like a sun shade with a distress message).
- If you have a cell phone-use it. If not, remain with your vehicle unless you are very close to a location that might have a phone. It's very likely another motorist will report your problem to the police.
- If you must leave the vehicle, leave a note with your name, a phone number and name of a person to contact, the time and day you left, and which direction you are walking.
Be Prepared For Problems
The Scout motto certainly applies to driving. It helps to "be prepared" for any situation. Here's how:
- Keep items in the vehicle such as flares, flashlights, blankets and a first aid kit. Mobile phones become valuable safety tools during breakdown situations. Have water available in hot weather, especially for children and pets.
- Know where items such as your spare tire, jack and other tools are in the vehicle and know how to use them.
EXPRESSWAY MARKINGS: Lines
Pavement markings give you all kinds of information, such as:
- Where you should be driving.
- Where you can safely wait for a chance to make a left turn.
Here are what the markings you see on the road mean:
- Single solid yellow line indicates the left edge of a roadway.
- Single broken white line separates lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
- Single solid white line indicates the right edge of a roadway, or it may warn drivers not to change lanes if used between a through lane and a left turn lane.
- Wide white bar indicates where to stop.
WORK ZONES: Patience, Patience
The bulk of our interstate highway system was built in the 1950's and 60's and many other highways were originally constructed before that time. Those roads are aging and in need of repair, replacement or improvement in some places. Millions will be spent to improve our state's roadways and bridges over the next few years. Those improvements bring with them an increase in the number of road construction sites...and that generally means delays.
In a typical year, the state of Kansas has more than 500 highway projects underway. Municipalities throughout the state also have numerous construction sites on their local roadways. As a result, drivers are likely to encounter a variety of work zone conditions, including narrow lanes, concrete barriers, orange barrels, uneven pavement, slow moving equipment and loose gravel. Because of their temporary nature, these areas can surprise a motorist. The color orange is designated for most signs, barrels and barricades used in these areas.
Annually, more than 700 people are killed and 39,000 injured nationally in crashes that occur in work zones. In Kansas, 85 percent of those killed were drivers and passengers of cars that crashed into other cars or roadside construction equipment. About 15 percent of those killed were road workers and pedestrians.
Many states, including Kansas, double the fine for speeding in work zones, whether or not workers are on site. Some states even require jail time and/or community service for violations in work zones.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the combination of high speeds and congestion is the leading cause of crashes on urban interstates, followed by the failure to remain alert while driving. As a result, one in three work zone crashes is a rear-end collision.
What Can You Do?
- Plan. Forewarned is forearmed. Before leaving on a trip, check out road conditions. In Kansas, the Kansas Department of Transportation provides road condition information on its website. You can find it at http://511.ksdot.org. You can also call the Kansas Road Condition Hotline at 1-800-585-ROAD. They can warn you about any road construction along your route. Be sure to allow yourself extra travel time if there are work zones on your planned route.
- Be cautious. Lanes are likely to be closed in work zones and traffic patterns changed as the work progresses. Watch for detour and lane diversion signs. When you see orange signs or barrels, be especially alert, reduce your speed to the posted limit and be aware that there may be flaggers, workers, machinery and adverse road conditions ahead. Observe all work zone warning signs.
- Pay attention to flaggers in orange vests directing traffic. In a work zone, a flagger has the same authority as a regulatory sign, so you can be cited for disobeying his or her directions.
- Keep a safe distance between your vehicle, other vehicles, traffic barriers, construction workers and equipment. (Extra caution is required when driving in an active work zone at night.)
- Merge at the first notice of a lane closure or change. Resist the urge to "jockey for position" as you approach or leave a work zone.
- Avoid distractions. Don't use your cell phone, refill your coffee cup or change radio stations, tapes or CD's.
- Keep your cool. Avoid yelling or directing obscene gestures at the work crew or other vehicles traveling with you through the area.
- Don't tailgate. It won't make the car ahead of you go any faster. It also reduces your reaction time and increases your chance of rear-ending the car in front of you.
- Be patient. Reducing your speed from 60 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour in a two-mile work zone delays your trip by only one minute.
- Don't take it personally. People make mistakes; most times they just aren't thinking when they do something that irritates you. For many individuals, driving through narrow lanes lined with concrete walls on each side makes them nervous and causes them to slow down.
Here's The Law:
Kansas law requires you to obey all signs in work zones.
Many states double or triple the fine for a moving violation in work zones, whether or not workers are on site. Some states even require jail time and/or community service for violations in work zones.
In Kansas, fines in work zones are doubled. If you are ticketed driving just 10 miles an hour over the speed limit in a work zone, you will pay at least $114 in fines and court costs.
THE GREATEST ROAD THREAT: Yourself
You may not realize it, but you pose the greatest danger to yourself and other drivers. Most crashes are due to driver error, not the highway. And it only takes a split second of driver inattention for a crash to occur.
You say you always pay close attention while driving? Well...let's see.
Have you ever talked on your cell phone while driving? Eaten food?
Read the newspaper? Read directions to someplace you were trying to go? Blared the radio or tape player? Shaved? Put on make-up? Combed your hair? Bent down to pick something up off the floor? Lit a cigarette? Rode with a pet on your lap?
You get the idea.
Just remember, when you're driving, your focus needs to be on your driving. A split-second distraction can cause you to run off the road, rear-end a vehicle that has come to a sudden stop, swerve into the next lane...any number of things.
Here's a scary statistic: one crash occurs every seven seconds in the United States. By the time you find and answer your cell phone, a crash has occurred somewhere. Make sure it's not you.
Cell phones are nice conveniences, but can potentially be deadly. An incoming call can divert your attention from the road. One solution: find a safe place to park before you answer that call. Likewise, if you have to make an outgoing call. Another solution: have your incoming cell phone calls routed to your voice mail or message machine until you safely arrive at your destination.
The split second you take to grab a french fry is all it takes to become involved in a collision.
Blaring music can prevent you from being able to hear sirens from emergency vehicles, train whistles and the horns of other drivers who may be trying to alert you.
Lighting up or putting out a cigarette can distract you. So can flicking hot ashes on yourself or getting smoke in your eyes. If you smoke while you drive, be especially careful and realize its potential to distract you.
Slowing down to look at accidents, police cars that have pulled someone over, even at articles for sale along the road can cause crashes. Slowing down can affect the driver behind you, who might also be rubbernecking and not realize your car has slowed down.
Empty pop cans. CD's. Books. Come to a quick stop and these and similar items start rolling around. If something happens to lodge beneath your brake pedal or your gas pedal, it can become a disastrous situation. Check your car before you drive. Remove or secure any loose articles.
Children and Pets
Dealing with children and/or pets can be extremely distracting, especially if they are crying, fighting, barking and the like. Insist children are buckled securely in their seat belts (or if under the age of four in their child seat). Separate older children if necessary to keep them from squabbling. Provide them with a book to read or a game to play if they are going to be in the car for an extended period. In the case of pets, always use a pet carrier.
YOU'RE NOT ALONE: Sharing the Road
You may be alone in your car, but you're never alone on the expressway. You share that little strip of pavement with a multitude of vehicles-cars, pickups, 18-wheelers, motorcycles, recreational vehicles and slow-moving vehicles.
You also share it with a multitude of people and their various personalities, preferences, habits and idiosyncrasies. Some forgot their glasses and aren't seeing too well that day; others had three or four drinks at dinner and are driving under the influence; still others may have smoked marijuana or snorted cocaine before they got behind the wheel. You never know. Maybe the woman next to you just lost her job; and the man in front of you just had a fight with his son. The driver on your right just got his license and has only been driving for two weeks.
The Aggressive Driver
All these people are out there with you. Their ability to drive is affected by numerous factors, physical and emotional. One of the most dangerous drivers is the aggressive driver. Governed either by a lack of courtesy and common sense, or by a physical (drugs or alcohol) or emotional situation, this driver puts you in danger.
Unfortunately, most of us have encountered this driver. His or her behavior includes:
- Running stop signs and red lights.
- Speeding, tailgating and weaving between lanes.
- Cutting in front of other drivers.
- Passing on the right shoulder.
- Making inappropriate hand and facial gestures.
- Screaming, honking the horn, and flashing headlights.
How To Handle An Aggressive Driver
- The smartest thing to do: move out of the aggressive driver's way.
- Do not challenge an aggressive driver by speeding up or attempting to "hold your own" in the travel lane.
- Avoid eye contact.
- Ignore gestures and refuse to return them.
- Report aggressive drivers to the appropriate authorities by providing a vehicle description, license number, location and direction of travel.
- If you have a cell phone, call the police. In Kansas, you can contact the Highway Patrol by dialing 47 on your cell phone or KTA if you're on the Kansas Turnpike.
- If an aggressive driver is involved in a crash farther down the road, stop at a safe distance from the scene, wait for police to arrive and report the driving behavior you witnessed earlier.