At first it seemed like maybe KDOT was a having a laugh.
That’s the Kansas Department of Transportation, in case you’re visiting from another country.
Bulgaria, maybe, or Mississippi.
Anyhow, you know those temporary highway warning signs that you see when you’re motoring up to a detour? Or if there’s a temporary construction zone?
Well, last week they began popping up all over I-70 – especially on the stretch between Topeka and Manhattan.
I was driving back from Kansas City and here they were, glowing all orange to startle you as dusk turned to full dark…
“IGNORE DISTRACTIONS. JUST DRIVE.”
You get it why I was chuckling, right?
I mean, “distractions” as a major threat to life and limb on the drive across central Kansas?
My first mental image was the long, long ribbon of highway stretching all the way to the Colorado border — it’s 424 miles from Kansas City to Goodland, so far away that you change time zones before you leave our lovely state.
And I vaguely imagined someone from Connecticut or New Jersey, perhaps making that trek en route to California — and wondering what distractions might bring them to harm on the long jaunt across Kansas?
The bright lights of Hays? That sign advertising the world’s largest prairie dog out near Oakley?
Distractions on the Kansas interstate…
Ho, ho, ho!
But then I started wondering, because surely KDOT wouldn’t waste all those expensive portable warning signs for some little private joke.
It dawned on me that the “distractions” involved in our neck of the woods might have something to do with the spring burn.
Drivers from another part of the country conceivably might do a double-take and lose concentration if they noticed flames licking away at the prairie grass just a few yards off I-70, no?
Here’s the deal: KDOT is participating in a nationwide campaign to cut down on drivers sending or reading texts on their cell phones.
No big deal, you say?
In 2013, 90 people were killed in Kansas because of distracted driving — 26 percent of all fatality accidents.
Paul Atchley, a professor from KU who has studied this phenomenon, calculates that in terms of causing crashes with serious damage, drivers who pick up a phone are six to eight times more dangerous than drunken drivers.
That seems unbelievable, but when you think about it…
Studies show that drivers’ eyes are off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds while sending or receiving a text. At a speed of just 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
Now if all this hasn’t gotten your attention, consider that at any given moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.
That number comes from a survey done by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and frankly, it’s scary.
My cell phone officially is headed into storage while I’m driving.
Steve Cameron is executive editor of The Mercury.