Archive for Sunday, May 1, 2011

Deadly accident spurs calls to make K-10 safer

KU student Briana Arensburg tells us why she supports cable barriers on Kansas Highway 10. Arensburg was in a crossover crash on K-10 in 2010 in the same spot where a crossover crash in April 2011 claimed two lives.

May 1, 2011


For Briana Arensberg, it happened in a split second.

She was headed west about 8:20 p.m. Aug. 21 on Kansas Highway 10 near Eudora when suddenly a trailer slammed into the side of her vehicle and caused her Mitsubishi sport utility vehicle to flip over.

The trailer had come loose from an eastbound vehicle and traveled across the 60-foot grass median before pieces of wood splintered into Arensberg’s SUV on impact. The 22-year-old Kansas University student was OK after suffering abrasions on her arm and under her chin. A Missouri man had more serious injuries after a similar incident in January when a trailer came loose and struck a vehicle near De Soto.

Bad memories flooded back for Arensberg on April 16 when she learned of a cross-median crash near the same spot of her accident on the highway east of the Church Street interchange. Two people, including 5-year-old Cainan Shutt of Eudora, died in the head-on crash after an eastbound car driven by 24-year-old Ryan Pittman of Eudora, who also died, crossed the median and struck the westbound minivan Cainan’s stepgrandfather, Danny Basel, was driving.

Now Arensberg is one of thousands of people on Facebook who have written to state officials, including Gov. Sam Brownback, following the lead of Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson urging the Kansas Department of Transportation to install cable median barriers to impede out-of-control vehicles from crossing over into the wrong lane.

“A cable system would help prevent accidents like these and also save the lives of those we love,” Arensberg said.

Brownback last week directed KDOT Secretary Deb Miller to reopen a study on the cable barriers on K-10 and to expedite a project to widen K-10 shoulders in Douglas County and install rumble strips. A local group including Lawrence and Eudora city officials will provide input in the cable median barrier study.

But KDOT officials on Friday said that the cable barriers were not a “silver bullet” in being able to stop all crashes and that engineers studying the highway need to look at many issues when deciding whether to install the barriers. One consideration is, if medians on K-10 become narrower due to the cable, would it cause more accidents because drivers who normally can regain control instead collide with the barrier?

“That’s why we’ve got to look at it all,” said Kim Qualls, a KDOT spokeswoman.

Cross-median crashes

Ali Shutt, Cainan’s mother, Hopson and other supporters on the Facebook group asking KDOT to install the cables say K-10 has become alarmingly dangerous because of the number of cross-median fatality crashes.

According to KDOT, from 2000 to 2010, of the 17 crashes that killed 19 people on K-10 between Lawrence and Interstate 435, seven crashes involved cross-median collisions and two more were due to vehicles crossing the median. The causes cited in those crashes were: driver inattention and loss of control, twice; avoiding road debris, once; making an unknown evasive maneuver, four times; speeding during an avoidance maneuver, once; and driver inattention, once.

Proponents of the cable barriers say they are worried because the April 16 accident followed an August cross-median fatality crash near De Soto and another fatality accident in October when a woman was driving the wrong way for several miles.

Other states have reported success with installing cable median barriers, and Jorma Duran, a Missouri Department of Transportation spokesman, said the agency estimates the cables save about 50 lives a year in crashes on all of the state’s four-lane highways. He said 400 people were killed in cross-median crashes statewide from 1996 to 2005, and cross-median crash fatalities have dropped to single digits per year since cable median barriers were installed on various four-lane highways starting in 2006.

But Jerry Younger, a KDOT deputy secretary and the state’s transportation engineer, said cross-median fatality numbers in Missouri were much higher than Kansas mainly because of high traffic rates and narrower medians. Younger said Kansas annually averages five cross-median crash fatalities on its entire 1,000 miles of four-lane divided highways.

K-10 east of Lawrence to I-435 in Johnson County also had fewer fatality accidents from 2000 to 2010 compared with roughly the same stretch of Interstate 70 to I-435, which has a concrete median barrier, on the Kansas Turnpike, according to KDOT statistics. K-10 over the 24.5-mile stretch had 2,840 total accidents, including 17 accidents that involved fatalities and 561 injury accidents, compared with 3,553 accidents on 23 miles of I-70 that included 19 accidents that involved fatalities and 746 injury accidents. On K-10, 19 people died in those crashes and 756 were injured, while 21 died on I-70 and 1,164 were injured.

K-10, which is a major commuter corridor, also has an average daily traffic count in that stretch that is higher than I-70, which part of a cross-country interstate highway that had higher amounts of commercial truck traffic, according to KDOT. From 2004-2008, the section of K-10 averaged 33,568 vehicles per day compared with 31,075 on I-70, Qualls said.

K-10’s fatality crash rate during that period was 0.56 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared with 0.69 on I-70 and the average on all of the state’s highways of 1.23.

Dean Sicking, a University of Nebraska civil engineering professor who studied the state’s four-lane highway system in 2008, said he considered the numbers on the two highways to be comparable. He said having a cross-median crash on I-70 would be rare compared with K-10 because of the concrete barrier in place, but he said fatality crashes still occur there for various other reasons.

K-10 traffic

Area commuters who travel on K-10 daily said the recent cross-median crashes are a major concern along with what seems to be increasing traffic and the speeds that people drive.

Patty Noland, who has commuted to Lawrence mostly as part of a daily car pool from her home in the Kansas City area since 1998, said K-10 seems to have become busier in the last 13 years.

“The main thing I notice is just people speeding and going way too fast,” said Noland, who works in Kansas University’s School of Journalism. “I think that might be part of the problem, people going too rapidly and they lose control.”

Noland said K-10 for the most part doesn’t seem to be overly dangerous, although she called the fatality accidents in recent months “alarming” and said it likely would be beneficial for the state to install the cable median barriers.

Jim Hall, a Lawrence resident who drives to the Kansas City area for work, said law enforcement should focus more on the area, especially on violations such as tailgating other vehicles.

“As law enforcement has gotten more relaxed, it has allowed people to be less stringent on their driving habits,” Hall said.

Don Hughes, a technical trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol, said troopers do try to patrol the highway and dedicate extra patrols to the area when they can.

Greg Benefiel, an assistant Douglas County district attorney who prosecutes traffic and DUI cases, said he notices tickets for higher speeds on K-10 and for vehicles following too closely, which is a concern.

“We see what I consider to be too many (speeding tickets) that are over 90 mph, and we even get the occasional one over 100 mph,” Benefiel said.

Heather Helm, of Eudora, who has commuted for four years to work in Overland Park, said she worries that the amount of people speeding, coupled with possible distractions that drivers have, increases the chances for cross-median crashes and head-on collisions. She’s also skeptical that the median is enough space for some drivers to get stopped or correct their path before entering the oncoming lanes.

“There’s no way if someone’s driving that fast,” she said.

Troopers have said they are still investigating the cause of the April 16 crash, including the possibility that drugs contributed after a preliminary autopsy indicated marijuana, benzodiazepine and methadone were in Pittman’s system.

Hopson and other advocates for cable median barriers said the recent cross-median fatality accidents demonstrate the need for a cable median to stop a vehicle of a driver that perhaps has lost control because of impaired driving or perhaps a medical issue.

KDOT officials say that’s why they want local leaders to be able to provide input in the study.

“It’s important that there will be a committee looking at it,” Qualls said, “and it will help definitely educate as well as address other things people are seeing that maybe just aren’t noted by the numbers.”


pmsharp 7 years ago

Where's the Cables, come on guys, how meany more lives will be lost???

Piper180 7 years ago

Editorial: Concrete data needed on cable median barriers Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 10:02 AM By Kalamazoo Gazette Editorial Board The Kalamazoo Gazette Cable barriers along Interstate 94 have been damaged by car crashes. There is also concern the barriers may do more harm than good. The cable median guardrails installed along Michigan’s divided highways seem like an answer to a question nobody was asking. But the presence of these barriers along stretches of our major highways is certainly raising questions now among travelers who wonder why they were installed in the first place. A Kalamazoo Gazette report attracted comments from a variety of people reacting to the news of a fatal crash a week ago on Interstate 94 near Paw Paw. Police told staff writer Fritz Klug that the cable barriers played a role in that crash. Lt. Robert Kirk of the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office said that, if the high-tension cable barrier hadn’t been there, the disabled car would likely have been in the median instead of presenting an obstruction on the highway. The 2000 Cadillac DeVille was eastbound near mile marker 61 when the driver lost control, slid off the road and hit the cable guard, according to police. The car came to rest sitting sideways on the left lane of the highway. . . . A 60-year-old Saginaw woman who was still inside the Cadillac was killed. The cable guardrails were installed in late 2009 on sections of I-94 and U.S. 131 around southwestern Michigan at a cost of about $200,000 per mile, according to Nick Schirripa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. They are designed to keep cars from crossing the median and striking oncoming traffic, he said. . . . As transportation and law enforcement officials know, when vehicles veer into oncoming lanes of traffic, the resulting crashes almost always result in fatalities. So the cable guardrails were installed to prevent those fatal accidents. That’s a worthy goal. And no cross-median fatalities have been reported statewide where these cable barriers have been installed. But one of the questions we have is whether the existence of these barriers will ultimately end up creating hazards that result in death, like last Sunday’s crash, and if there might be a better way to accomplish the same objective. . . . If the system truly works well and saves lives, people will be inclined to accept it. We noticed, on the MDOT website, a distressing tendency of the spokesmen to give examples of crashes and then say what would have happened without the barrier. How can they know?

devobrun 7 years ago

Motorcyclists call cable barriers "cheese slicers".

Scott Morgan 7 years ago

Not a two wheeler, but good point.

duster 7 years ago

While we believe CABLE barrier's will help save lives...this is a classic example of NOT EVERY ACCIDENT IS REPORTED IN THE PAPERS OR NEWS MEDIA.

Did anybody ask...WHY DID THE TRAILER COME OFF AND UNHITCHED? You need to know that we have a defective hitch system in the United States and our organization is the only one's who are addressing.

Go to and take note that more people have been killed by LOOSE Runaway trailers and or trailers that start trailer sway than back over accidents or lack of cable barrier's.

We simply state that if TRAILERS did not come loose then we would have even less Deadly accidents.

For some reason our Government accepts "Homemade" trailers....our Government accepts trailers that fly like a missile across the highway..... and they do NOTHING.

You need to know that last week in Florida a mom, wife lost her life simply by walking on a sidewalk and she was gone before she hit the ground by a "Loose Runaway Trailer"

A Cable system would not have saved her in this case. "Why are trailers coming loose injuring and killing and we including the victims families care?

John Hamm 7 years ago

Trailer comes loose. Some "driver" for whatever reason crosses median. Vehicle goes off road. driver overcorrects. What did the highway do here? Nothing! Absolutely nothing. IF K-10 is "dangerous" it's not the highway its the DRIVERS! Come on people, wake up, "We have seen the enemy and he is us." Pogo. As an aside. Why in the heck couldn't she see this trailer coming at her and take evasive action?.............

kmp 7 years ago

"What did the highway do here? Nothing! Absolutely nothing. IF K-10 is "dangerous" it's not the highway its the drivers!"

I agree that drivers cause many of the accidents but why should the drivers on the other side be impacted. An innocent child died. A family is forever changed due to no fault of their own. Crossover cables would have prevented that.

duster 7 years ago

Your Government has gotten over 400 letters just like this...and they do nothing to address...what do you do when you get letters like this...and nobody is waking up?

My wife was wife was killed by a run away trailer on April 16, 2011 in Jacksonville Florida on SR 13 in Saint Johns county.

And yet another letter our Government has ignored. my niece just recently passed away because of trailer hitting the car my sister was driving , she was only 6 , our lives have been devasted over our loss , iam so angry at the man who caused this accident , i want to know how i can help so this dosent happen again , i also want to know how to make new laws for this, i want a law called eminas law , how can i do this for our family and so this tragedy dosent happen to anyone else loved ones , i want to be very educated on this , i want new laws passed and i also again i state i want a law called eminas law, i want this not to happen to anyone else , i hope this makes since , thank you for your time , and being with us through all of this , thank you for your support

and the Louisiana State Police....issued this back in 2000 and if your state would have listened then the person featured in this story would not have been hit.

DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY Department of Public Safety and Corrections Office of State Police Safety Devices for Trailers (LAC 55:I.2323) In accordance with the emergency provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, R.S. 49:953 B, and R.S. 32:384 the Office of State Police is declaring an emergency due to the public safety hazard posed by the inadequacy of safety chains to maintain control of a trailer which has become disconnected from the vehicle pulling it. This hazard has resulted in serious injury and death as a result of these disconnected trailers striking other vehicles on Louisiana roads and highways. The Legislature has statutorily provided [at R.S. 32:384(E)] for a safety device which would serve as an alternative to safety chains, but such statute requires the promulgation of a rule by the Office of the State Police which would outline the process for approval of such a device. The following Rule was inadvertently deleted from a previously promulgated chapter concerning the Weights and Standards Mobile Police Force. The built-in time periods for promulgation of this Rule would create an unacceptable delay in approving such safety device. The immediate promulgation of this rule would allow for a more timely approval of such a safety device, which in turn, could save lives. The effective date of this Emergency Rule is December 8, 2000, and it shall be in effect for 120 days or until the final rule takes effect through normal promulgation process, whichever occurs first.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

It is not hard to understand the reason for emotional responses. Cable barriers cannot guarantee zero deaths due to crossover accidents.

Will they stop an 18 wheeler at 70-75 mph? I'd say a volunteer thick growth hedgerow would be a better bet. And it would be a better dollar value.

I'm not sure what the argument is against volunteer thick hedge growth? I see it in a few states going east. Will it prevent radar detection of speeders? That depends.

I say grow hedgerows AND hire more state level traffic control troopers for K-10 speedway. Those rush hours from 6:30 AM till 9:00 AM and 4PM-6:30 PM are nuts due to speeding drivers. There are simply not enough troopers to maintain safety.

There are stiff fines for speeding through construction zones. Why not stiffer fines for speeding and tailgating during rush hours? K-10 speedway is a trouble zone. Stiff fines to help support more traffic control!! Put some teeth in speed control!

Do traffic control law enforcement a favor! Give them the help that is necessary. One accident can aborb nearly every officer available ....then what?

More highway lanes mean higher speed driving. Not a friend to law enforcement.

Then again maybe some of those fast speeding commuters should consider moving closer to work.

ResQd 7 years ago

I agree, Merrill. The tailgaters are the concern for me driving back and forth. Going 70mph and just ONE idiot will eventually cause a pileup on K10. I will guarantee it! Scares the heck out of me every day.

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

I hope you aren't talking about hedgerows with STICKERS! Nobody wants to get stuck every time they run off the road for no reason!

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

BTW, none of the accidents discussed in these forums involved speeding commuters.

devobrun 7 years ago

Solid trunk trees should never be used in between lanes of a highway. Simple slide-off-the-road excursions wind up wrapping around the tree. They are far more dangerous than nothing at all.

Hedges? You mean bushes? A thicket? California does this with oleander and ice plant. We can't grow those here. And they aren't cheap. Regular maintenance is required. What is your suggestion for Kansas?

duster 7 years ago

13 Policie officers have been killed by Loose Runaway Trailers.....

Right next to your state he was killed and the only thing they did was name the highway after him

but nobody is asking .....Why did the trailer come loose!!!

Except us?

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

It's good to see that K-10 is safer than I-70 even though the traffic count is higher on K-`10.

It's probably because there aren't as many 'Freighters' on K-10. That probably makes the speeds higher.

These accidents aren't necessarily from higher speeds. People lose control of a vehicle entirely, as in passed out, asleep, unconscious; or a mechanical malfunction, like stuck accelerator pedal or bad trailer hitch.

There are parts of K-10 affected by wind because of the NE-SW alignment. Add the occasional dip or hill and slick pavement and a car can leave the pavement on even a gradual curve. Every accident is probably like a 'perfect storm' combination of several factors.

For one thing, t sounds like the DOT needs to improve trailer hitch safety, there should never be a fatality because of a mickey mouse trailer hookup.

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

If they make these cable barriers, would it be one cable barrier right in the middle of the median, or a cable barrier on each side, closer to the existing shoulder?

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

A Fitch Barrier is a type of impact attenuator which is essentially a plastic barrel filled with sand or water, usually yellow colored with a black lid.

Fitch has stated that the design was inspired by sand-filled fuel cans which he used to protect his tent from strafing during World War II.

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

Only one of the fatal accidents cited in this LJW article was (partially) caused by excessive speed.

Here is some information I found on the internet concerning speeds and safety:

"Some advocacy groups seek to have certain speed limits as well as other measures removed. For example, automated camera enforcement has been criticised by motoring advocacy groups the Association of British Drivers, the North American National Motorists Association,and the German Auto Club."

Arguments used by those advocating a relaxation of speed limits or their removal include:

"A 1994 peer-reviewed paper by Charles A. Lave et al. titled 'Did the 65 mph Speed Limit Save Lives?' stated that evidence that a higher speed limit may be positive on a system wide in the United States by shifting more traffic to these safer roads."

"A 1998 report in the Wall Street Journal title 'Highways are safe at any speed' stated that when speed limits are set artificially low, tailgating, weaving and speed variance (the problem of some cars traveling significantly faster than others) make roads less safe."

"In 2010 German Auto Club (a major motoring organisation) concluded an autobahn speed limit was unnecessary because numerous countries with a general highway speed limit had worse safety records than Germany, for example Denmark, Belgium, Austria, and the United States."

"Safe Speed, a UK advocacy organisation campaigns for higher speed limits and to scrap speed cameras on the basis that the benefits were exaggerated and that they may actually increase casualty levels."

I don't know what the average speeds are on K-10, but I agree with some of the other posters on this forum that's it's a bit more than what's posted.

But speed doesn't seem to explain these crossover accidents.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

It will not matter what type of object is placed in the medians there may be more car damage and possible injuries. Is this worth saving a few lives and anguish? That will be the question.

Cables and motorcyclists? Hmmmmmmmmmmm

Why not volunteer growth instead of spending millions if a choice for median obstacles is chosen?


Again there are stiff fines for speeding through construction zones. Why not stiffer fines for speeding and tailgating during rush hours? Rush hours are trouble zones. Stiff fines to help support more traffic control!! Put some teeth in speed control!

Is rush hour mania on highways worth a commute?

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

Again, Merrill, this forum is a discussion about cable barriers and crossover accidents, which don't happen because of speeding during rush hours. And no other states, despite years of study and research, seem to have adopted volunteer brush growth as an safe and effective median barrier. Sand barriers, or maybe just a simple ditch, make more sense to me, but states all over the country are finding cable barriers as a safe and moderate cost mechanism to protect.

You're right about cables and motorcyclists, but people that consider safety a priority would be better off in a small car, anyway.

JerryStubbs 7 years ago

One of my concerns with 'volunteer growth' medians would be maintenance-- they would evolve into larger trees.

After looking for some time, about all I could find on 'vegetated medians' (usually just grass) was information from a study about wildlife mortality.

In areas with vegetated medians, minimize shrubbery that have been shown to attract wildlife and increase vehicle-caused mortality

Bobcat mortality was more frequent in road sections with thornshrub in the median

Medians vegetated with a fruit-bearing shrub have been linked to 95% of bird vehicular mortality in one study.

Birds were 85% more likely to be killed on roads with vegetated medians than on roads without medians.

notorious_agenda 7 years ago

I vote for the dukes of hazard median ramp. So crossovers get some hang time to think about their inattention. I have been commuting K-10 daily for over a decade and I have seen everything. My heart goes out to all those injuries and fatalities I have witnessed since 1996.

  1. Yield means slow down or stop.
  2. 2 seconds following distance behind the car in front of you.
  3. Own your lane when you have the right of way. (give someone an inch they might take your life.)
  4. If someone is obviously drunk on the road, exit and wait till they are no longer around you (It will save your life)

Dolphin 6 years, 10 months ago

We have seat belts in our cars to make us safe from ourselves and others. The cables will do the same.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.