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Travel, celebrate Independence Day safely
From impaired drivers to farm machinery, road hazards abound
new deh july 4 travel web
Traffic makes its way along 10th Street in Great Bend Friday afternoon. Streets and highways in Kansas will be crowded over the Fourth of July weekend and officials caution motorists to take care. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 Many Kansans will be traveling to Fourth of July celebrations this weekend, and local and state officials encourage travelers to plan ahead to make their trips as safe as possible.

“We wish everybody a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend,” said Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir. The holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, June 30 to Monday, July 4.

AAA Kansas predicts that 3.3 million people in North Central Region, which includes Kansas and the surrounding states, will travel more than 50 miles over the holiday – the most Independence Day travelers since 2007. Kansas gas prices that are the lowest since 2005, will boost travel to a record level this year, according to Jim Hanni of AAA Kansas. 

“Our region wins the distinction of having the highest portion of our population, 15.6 percent, traveling over the holiday weekend,” Hanni said.  That compares to the national average of 13.2 percent.

Helping to fuel this, gas prices are 44 cents or 17 percent lower than they were a year ago. Of all regional travel, 85 percent will take place by automobile. AAA projects nearly 43 million Americans will travel this Independence Day weekend. This represents the highest fourth of July travel volume on record and five million more travelers compared to Memorial Day weekend.  

With all this traffic, Bellednir, the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Highway Patrol encourage travelers to plan ahead to make their trips as safe as possible. 

KDOT and KHP safety experts caution travelers not to drink and drive. In 2014, 397 people were killed in traffic crashes throughout the nation during the Fourth of July holiday weekend and164 were alcohol-related. In 2015 in Kansas there were 417 crashes over the July 4 reporting period (6 p.m. Thursday July 2, 2015, through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, July 5, 2015.)  Two of those were fatality crashes and 99 were injury crashes. Of the 417 total crashes, 33 were alcohol-related.

Law enforcement agencies from across the state will be actively watching for impaired drivers. 

“Travelers are going to take to the highway throughout the holiday weekend and we want them to take steps to make it to their destination safely,” KHP Lt. Adam Winters said. “We want people to enjoy the holiday weekend, but we want you to be safe doing so. For those planning to drink over the weekend, designate your sober driver before you celebrate. And any time you ride in a vehicle, buckle up and make sure children are in the appropriate child safety seats.”       Closer to home, “our accident rate and DUI arrest rate is not significantly higher than any normal weekend,” Bellendir said. “We do see an increase in battery and disturbance calls.”

However, there is another hazard.

“The only thing I would add is there is a lot of agricultural activity still going on with harvest wrapping up,” the sheriff said. Some farmers were delayed due to rain and there are a lot of them still working ground. Drivers should be cautious of farm equipment being moved especially on the secondary black tops.

According to KDOT, drivers can check KanDrive before leaving home for route delays and construction on KanDrive includes camera images and interactive maps as well as links to rest areas and travel and tourism sites. KanDrive can be accessed from a smartphone. 

Much of the same information can be accessed by calling 5-1-1 in Kansas or 1-866-511-KDOT (5368) in the U.S.

Know before you go by using these services from home or in a vehicle that is parked in a safe location. If you are involved in a crash on a Kansas highway call *47 (*HP) from a cell phone for a highway patrol dispatcher or if on the Kansas Turnpike, dial *582 (*KTA) or 911.