WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Although Johnson County has roughly 80,000 more people, Sedgwick County currently has between two to three times the number of deadly car crashes.
It’s what prompted the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WAMPO) to commission an analysis last fall in conjunction with the Kansas Department of Transportation to compare crashes between the two counties. Now that the analysis has been released, several Sedgwick County Commissioners are calling for change.
“There’s about eight or nine different measurements, and again, we were worse, drastically worse, on every one of those,” Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell.
According to the analysis, 120 fatal crashes took place in Johnson County from 2017-2021. In Sedgwick County, that number was 291.
In the same time frame, 710 serious injury crashes took place in Johnson County, but in Sedgwick County, that number was 910.
Combining fatal and serious injury crashes, the cost to Johnson County totaled $2.04 billion. For Sedgwick County, that total was more than doubled at $4.4 billion.
“A lot of it is human factors. That’s what’s driving a lot of the accidents,” Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis.
One especially alarming statistic, according to both Dennis and Howell, was seatbelt usage.
While lane departure, running off the road, and intersections were all similar factors with insignificant statistical differences between the two counties, a memo from KDOT to WAMPO about the comparative analysis made a note about “unbelted driving.” According to that memo:
“Unbelted Driving” shows more than a 10% variation. Unbelted occupants were a contributing factor in 36.4% of fatal and serious injury crashes in Sedgwick County, as opposed to 26.1% in Johnson County. Unlike engineering countermeasures, this variation points to a need to focus on behavioral change and social norming around using seatbelts for all trips.”
“We need to educate people more, but here we are. It’s 2023. This is what we did 30 years ago,” Howell said.
“They think that we ought to engineer our way out of these problems. You can’t engineer your way out of human error,” Dennis said.
WAMPO’s director says staff is currently conducting additional analyses of the data to create a comprehensive action plan before the end of the year.
“This involves a lot of collaboration of various agencies and technical committee members to review the data, and I think, I think one important thing for all of us is, how do we have community engagement in the solutions?” Chad Parasa, director of WAMPO, said.
Parasa went on to say the upcoming plan will also make Sedgwick County eligible for a “Safe Systems for All” federal grant. However, the amount of money that a grant could provide if awarded has yet to be seen.