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Archive for Sunday, December 20, 1998

LL CALL

December 20, 1998

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Holiday phone calls should get through, and, with a few safe driving tips, so should holiday travelers.

It is going to be a busy week.

With Christmas just around the corner, people will be finishing shopping, calling friends and traveling for the holiday. The bad news is the highways will be full of holiday travelers; an estimated 5.7 million in the Midwest alone. The good news is there shouldn't be any problem calling home.

Holiday traffic

Over the holidays, 35.5 million people will be traveling by car. Many people will be leaving Kansas, coming to Kansas or just driving through Kansas.

"Just expect there are going to be more people out on the road," Karen Lemon with AAA Kansas said. "(Gas) prices are really low, and that is going to drive many more people out on the road."

With the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded at 89 cents in Kansas, more people will drive this year than most, Lemon said.

"We don't have any numbers but we know we've been incredibly busy in our offices," Sgt. John Eichkorn with the Kansas Highway Patrol said. "There will be an influx of traffic. ... Because of the added traffic, we anticipate an increase in crashes."

Last year, 10 people died in car accidents during the Christmas and New Year holidays in Kansas. Two of those deaths were alcohol-related.

The highway patrol tries to get as many patrolmen on the road as possible during the heaviest travel days, Eichkorn said, to help stranded motorists and enforce traffic laws.

"This is an extremely busy time for our roadways," he said.

Christmas calls

For those who don't want to brave the crowded highways, family is only a phone call away.

Steve Lunceford, a spokesman with Sprint, said that Christmas comes in second only to Mother's Day in the number of consumer calls made.

"In terms of holidays, it is No. 2," he said. The good news is callers shouldn't have any trouble getting through.

"On any given holiday, traffic is much lighter than any business day," he said. "You're not going to find busy signals. You'll be able to get a line out."

According to a survey done for Sprint, he said, most people want to call their mother during the holidays. Brothers and sisters are a second choice, and friends come in third. Poor Dad ranks fourth on the list. Grandparents and children come in fifth and sixth.

The majority of calls are made to make holiday wishes, Lunceford said, while another chunk of them are made "to catch up."

Drive safely

If a phone call just isn't enough, the Kansas Highway Patrol and AAA Kansas have a few safe driving tips.

"It's important to make sure your vehicle is prepared for bad weather," Triple A's Lemon said. It's also a good idea to check the weather forecast and plan accordingly, she said.

"AAA really does recommend, if you can afford to, that you carry a cellular phone," Lemon said. "It is really important to plan your trip in advance."

For road conditions in Kansas, call (800) 585-ROAD for the Road Condition Hotline sponsored by the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas Department of Transportation.

If the weather is bad, it is a good idea to carry a safety kit. Lemon suggested carrying a snow shovel, flares, sand, water and a flashlight. Eichkorn suggested carrying metal coffee cans, candles, matches, a can opener, nonperishable food, blankets, a first aid kit, jumper cables and a red flag.

"That's a good list anyway," he said.

Eichkorn said drivers need to remember Christmas is a very hectic time. Drivers should drive courteously and defensively, wear seatbelts, use approved car seats for children, obey speed limits, avoid tailgating and use turn indicators.

"It's best to always be sure you're well rested before you take to the road," he said.

Eichkorn recommended travelers let someone know when they leave, their route, and when they should arrive.

If someone does get stranded, Eichkorn said they should remain in their car.

"We do have folks out looking for people in situations like that," he said. "The best thing is to not panic."

Drivers equipped with cell phones can dial *47 in Kansas to reach a local Kansas Highway Patrol dispatcher, or *KTA on the Kansas Turnpike for a turnpike dispatcher.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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