Maybe we Kansans are hicks after all

Kansans are often heard lamenting the fact that we are considered by other parts of the country to be hicks, behind the times and backward.

Much of that reputation is undeserved as long-time residents can attest.

But, quite frankly, some of the way we are negatively looked upon by those from the east and west coasts is deserved. As Jimmy Buffet so eloquently put it, it?s our own dadgum fault.

I know, I know. The rantings and ravings of a few loudmouths are usually not representative of all Kansans. The redneck philosophies espoused are often the extremes.

But, more and more, I am wondering if the clear thinkers in Kansas are declining in numbers or are just suffering from collective laryngitis. Where are the howls of outrage, for example, at how the Kansas Legislature has dealt with some driver-safety issues this session?

Case in point: Though our elected representatives finally managed to pass a graduated drivers? licensing bill, Kansas was the 49th state to see the light. Never mind that car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for our teens.

Kind of makes you wonder which state is No. 50, the lone holdout.

The new Kansas law will require every teen to hold a learner?s permit for 12 months before obtaining a restricted or full license. Teen drivers can haul no more than one non-sibling passenger under the age of 18 during the first six months of full licensing. Night driving is restricted to before 9 p.m. for the first six months of full licensing unless driving to and from work or school.

Cell phones may not be used while driving until teens complete the six-month probationary period. An exception is in place for reporting emergencies.

These are all things that will likely save teen lives. My hope is that state, county and city law enforcement officials will step it up and ticket violators. As I have said many times before, without fair and even-handed enforcement, the law will do nothing to stem the tide of motor vehicle deaths.

I see this law as a positive step toward saving young people?s lives.

On the other hand, our House of Representatives so far has failed to approve requiring all Kansans in vehicles to use seat belts or face a fine of $60 each.

The bill passed by the Senate would raise the seat-belt statute to ?primary enforcement? level, meaning officers could pull drivers over for the infraction.

Currently, citations can only be issued to those 18 and older if the driver is pulled over for another reason. Current law requires anyone 17 and under to ?click it or ticket.?

Adding to the lack of clear thought on this issue is the rejection of the $11.2 million in federal financing for transportation projects that would be available with a primary seat-belt law.

Apparently, the state has plenty of money to work with this year and is not in need of any help with finances.

Here are some of the comments that unfortunately seem to typify Kansans? thinking. Rep. Gary Hayzlett of Lakin, chairman of the House Transporta?tion Committee, said he supported the use of seat belts but didn?t believe the state should modify safety law to snare federal funding.

WHAT? Does he believe in modifying state law to save lives? It could amount to saving as many as 30 Kansans and prevent 300 serious injuries a year, according to advocates of the bill.

Hayseed?er?Hayzlett went on to say he didn?t like the idea of the federal government using tax dollars we send to Washing?ton as a way to blackmail us. It?s our money, he said, but we shouldn?t take it back if there are strings attached.

Even if it might lessen personal suffering? That?s showing them pesky feds, Gary.

Other legislators complained the law would amount to ?profiling? of potential violators by law enforcement officers. Isn?t that what traffic officers are supposed to do, spot offenders and ticket them? I would hardly call that a negative.

Another legislator who seems by her comments to value personal freedom over safety is Sen. Susan Wagle of Wichita, who said the state should not be in the business of forcing adults to buckle a belt.

?It?s a philosophical objection I have,? she said. ?I believe it?s not our role to tell adults that they have to buckle up.?

OK. Then, I suppose it?s not our role to tell adults they can?t use drugs or hire prostitutes or do other alleged ?victimless? crimes of choice.

News flash: when someone dies or is damaged for life in a car wreck, everyone pays a certain price.

As Rep. Pat Colloton of Lea?wood said last week, the privilege of driving comes with stringent safety rules that should include a primary seat belt law. ?Driving isn?t really an individual freedom or a right,? she said. ?It?s a privilege.?

It is possible that the Senate will still consider passing a law requiring everyone, regardless of age, to be buckled in. But, I?m not holding my breath. Based on the number of beltless drivers I see on the road, I?m not sure the average Kansan understands the impact (pun fully intended) a motor vehicle accident could have on an unsecured human.

If I?m wrong, now might be the time to let your senator know.

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