Good behavior should be rewarded and encouraged — at least, that's the thinking behind Kansas Operation Lifesaver's positive enforcement program, built on a partnership between Kansas Operation Lifesaver, the Kansas Highway Patrol and Sonic Drive-in.
Through the program, free cherry limeade coupons from Sonic are distributed on behalf of the partner organizations, along with a message of safe practices to apply at railroad crossings — a message the organizations were sharing in Newton on Tuesday.
Part of a national nonprofit, the Kansas chapter of Operation Lifesaver started the positive enforcement program a few years back as a way to promote the overall mission — enhancing safety education and awareness to reduce collisions, fatalities and injuries at railway crossings.
"This is an initiative that Kansas kind of took on the last couple of years, but not necessarily nationally, so this is kind of a unique thing to the state of Kansas," said KOL state coordinator Tara Mays. "By reminding people of the importance to be safe when crossing tracks on foot or in a car we hope to reduce the overall incidents involving cars and trains as well as pedestrians and trains.
In Newton, KHP officers from Troop F were out at the intersection of Broadway and Walnut on Tuesday, sharing the Sonic coupons and passing along that message of safety.
Essentially, Mays noted that message boils down to practicing safety whenever crossing railroad tracks (whether in a car, on foot, on a bike, etc.), reminding drivers and pedestrians that at least one individual in the U.S. is hit or killed by a train every three hours and getting them to think proactively.
"We're trying to leave them with the message of when you see tracks, we hope that you think train," Mays said.
Federal Railroad Administration statistics show that in Kansas in 2017, there were 34 collisions at roadway-railway crossings that resulted in eight deaths and 13 injuries. Additionally, there were 17 trespasser incidents across the state that resulted in nine deaths — a number that Mays noted is trending in the wrong direction, having increased by more than 300 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Incident frequency, rail traffic and a number of other factors are used to determine when the organizations go out for the positive enforcement programs each year, but Mays noted they typically start in the warmer, summer months.
"There's a lot of new drivers hitting the roads and there's a lot of folks who are out on foot and on bicycle," Mays said. "We try to hit and do these positive enforcement events starting in about April and running through October. Really, the warm weather months is when we try to hit it hard."
On top of positive enforcement, there are a number of other ways KOL gets involved to help spread its message of safety, often getting invited to speak in different forums (i.e. driver's education), with the positive enforcement program viewed as a jumping off point.
"For us, this is a conduit to start the conversation about different opportunities for us to come into the community," Mays said. "We do rail safety education for everyone from pre-school age through professional drivers."
Kansas Operation Lifesaver offers free railroad safety presentations and programs throughout the state. To schedule a presentation or visit from Kansas Operation Lifesaver, you can contact Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 785-806-8801.You can also find more information online at www.oli.org.