Driving in Kansas
Kansas proudly proclaims itself as flat as a pancake – with the scientific comparison study to back it up – which means getting behind the wheel in this state usually offers you some pretty uneventful driving. Miles of the state's signature sunflowers will greet you as you follow the flat, even roadways to any of the myriad roadside attractions that make Kansas a road tripper's paradise.
But just because Kansas driving is easy doesn't mean you should let your guard down behind the wheel. The Sunflower State has a number of unique challenges and hazards on the road, and you should be prepared anytime you drive. Here's what you need to know about getting on the road in Kansas:
Kansas State Auto Insurance Requirements
Kansas requires drivers to carry liability insurance with the following minimums:
- $25,000 for injury/death to one person per accident
- $50,000 for injury/death to more than one person per accident
- $25,000 for damage to property per accident
In addition, Kansas is a no-fault state. Unlike some other no-fault states, this does not mean that fault goes unconsidered after an accident. Instead, it means that your injuries after an accident are covered by personal injury protection coverage before any other type of insurance coverage. For that reason, the law required you to carry the following minimum personal injury protection coverage per accident:
- $4,500 per person for medical costs
- $900 per month for 1 year for disability and loss of income
- $25 per day for in-home services for one year
- $2,000 for funeral, cremation or burial expenses
- $4,500 for rehabilitation
Finally, you must carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, with a minimum of $25,000 for injury or death to one person per accident, and $50,000 for injury or death to more than one person.
Trucks and Lowriders: Car Culture in Kansas
Kansas is an agricultural state, with farmland accounting for more than 88 percent of all land in the state. This helps to explain why trucks are so ubiquitous across the state. According to research by Kelley Blue Book, the Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle in Kansas – and residents definitely notice. Maria DeLeon writes: "The trucks partially reflect the farmer culture of the state, or just people who use them as utility vehicles that come in handy."
But pickup trucks are hardly the extent of car culture in the state. You are also likely to see a number of lowrider vehicles, especially in and around Kansas City, Kansas and other cities in the state. Customizing cars to make them ride low (and otherwise make them beautifully eye-catching) is part of American Latino art culture, and the iconic cars were showcased at the 2017 Kansas City Kansas Latino Arts Festival with a parade of the rolling art.
Rural Roads and Urban Highways
According to Wichita resident Miriam Savage, it can sometimes be a little difficult to know the difference between rural and urban roadways in her hometown: "The one odd thing about Wichita is there are random dirt roads in the middle of town. Most are paved, but every once in a while there are dirt roads amongst all the paved goodness."
While it may feel a little disconcerting to come upon a dirt road in the middle of a modern city, the presence of an unpaved road in the middle of Wichita doesn't change the fact that driving there is generally safer than driving on a rural road. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that rural roads are more dangerous for drivers than their urban counterparts. As of 2016, the rate of car crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled is 2.4 times higher in rural areas compared to urban areas across the country. That's because car crashes in urban areas are more likely to occur at lower speeds, and emergency services are closer at hand should they be needed.
The statistics on fatal accidents in Kansas support this finding. In 2016, 289 of the state's 429 car crash fatalities (or 67 percent) occurred on rural roads – despite the fact that only 47.9 percent of the total vehicle miles traveled were driven on rural roads.
Miles Driven in Kansas
How many miles you put on your car each year depends a great deal on your specific circumstances, but the average driving habits of Americans and Kansans can offer insight to individual drivers about their own driving behavior. For instance, as of 2014, the average American drove about 13,476 miles per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. Drivers in Kansas, on the other hand, put 14,742 miles on the odometer that same year.
While the nearly 1,300 additional miles that Kansas drivers put on their cars compared to the average American may seem pretty negligible, it's important to remember that those extra miles can increase your maintenance needs, which can increase the cost of owning your car. Financial blog My Money Design calculates that the cost of such maintenance is approximately $0.26/mile. That means the average American driver can expect to spend $3,504 in annual maintenance costs, while the average Kansan will spend about $3,833.
In addition, the state of the roads in Kansas can also affect your maintenance costs. The Washington Post reported in 2015 that 24 percent of Kansas's roads are in poor condition, which means "they have so many major ruts, cracks and potholes that they can't simply be resurfaced – the need to be completely rebuilt." Having nearly one in every four roads pitted with holes and cracks is costly for drivers, to the tune of $573 in additional maintenance per year, according to The Washington Post.
At the Pump in Kansas
Though Kansans may spend more on vehicle maintenance than other Americans, there is one driving cost that is lower for them: gas prices in the state are among the lowest in the country. The average national price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $2.462 as of Dec. 28, 2017, according to AAA – but in Kansas, the average cost was more than 20 cents lower at $2.259 per gallon.
While a 20 cent difference between the national average and Kansas's average may not make or break anyone's budget, it's still helpful to the average Kansan to see such a savings. In addition, no matter how inexpensive gas may get, there are always things that drivers can do to reduce gasoline usage – and pocket the savings.
Unemployment and Driving
There is an interesting connection between the unemployment rate of a state, and the driving behavior of its residents. Specifically, the lower the unemployment rate, the more people drive. This makes sense, since employed citizens need to commute to and from their jobs – and they have the disposable income necessary to spend on entertainment, which generally takes them out of the house and puts them on the road.
The national unemployment rate has been quite low in 2017, at a rate of 4.1 percent as of November of that year. Kansas has enjoyed an even lower rate of 3.5 percent, making it 15th in the nation for employment.
While having more employed citizens on the road tends to increase commute times (especially at rush hour), that is not a problem for the Sunflower State. Savage writes: "Our version of traffic congestion is a far cry from other areas I've lived. You can get anywhere in Wichita in 20 minutes. 30 minutes if traffic is really bad. I kind of love that."
Savage's experience is pretty typical for most Kansans. The average commute time across the state of Kansas is only 19 minutes one way, according to the 2014 Census Bureau American Community Survey. That's more than six minutes shorter than the national average of 25.5 minutes.
Mitigating Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is one of the most alarming roadway hazards in the 21st century. While it's possible for drivers to become distracted by any number of things while they drive, the biggest source of distraction is cell phones and other gadgets. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,179 people were killed and another 431,000 were injured nationally in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2014.
Though Kansas does not have the statistics calculated for distracted driving related deaths in 2017, Kansas Department of Transportation believes that the 12 percent increase in traffic fatalities that year is due to distracted drivers.
Legislators in Kansas have taken this issue very seriously, and created a ban on texting while driving all the way back in 2011. This is a primary law, meaning police can (and will!) pull over drivers who are only violating the texting ban, even if they are otherwise driving legally. The penalty for violating the ban is a $60 fine. In addition, the law prohibits teenage drivers from all cell phone use behind the wheel.
Kansas has an excellent reason for prohibiting teen drivers from using cell phones in any way behind the wheel: according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes." Since teens are just learning the rules (and skills) of the road, and it's clear that teenagers are among the most dangerous drivers on the road, and don't need the added distraction of cell phones.
Kansas has also implemented a graduated licensing program to support teens as they learn to navigate the complexities of driving. Here is what teens must do to become fully licensed drivers in the Sunflower State:
- Farm Permit: As an agricultural state, Kansas offers teens as young as 14 the opportunity to drive in connection with farming activities. To receive such a permit, the teen must pass vision, written, and driving tests, and submit their application with the signature from a parent or guardian. The farm permit allows any teen 14 or older residing or working on a farm to drive to or from the farm. A farm permit holder under the age of 16 may also drive between home and school or for a religious activity.
- Instruction Permit: Teens as young as 14 (including those who do not live on a farm) may apply for an instruction permit. The application includes a written exam and a vision exam. On this permit, teens may only drive with an adult licensed driver supervising from the front seat. A teen driver with this permit must practice at least 25 hours of supervised driving to move onto the next stage of licensing.
- Restricted License: As of age 15, a teen driver who has held an instruction permit for at least one year may apply for a restricted license, provided the driver has completed an approved driver education course and at the 25 hours of practice driving. Teens younger than 16 who hold a restricted license may not drive with any non-sibling passengers and may only drive without supervision to go to work, school, or religious activities. Teens under age 16 with a restricted license must also complete an additional 25 hours of supervised driving. As of age 16, teens on the restricted license may drive anywhere without supervision between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m., but they may not drive with more than one non-immediate family member passenger under age 18.
- Full License: As of age 16 1/2, teens can begin to drive unrestricted, provided they have completed all the previous graduated licensing requirements. If they have not, a teen must wait until age 17 to graduate to a full license, and he or she must pass the vision, written, and driving tests and submit proof of having completed the 50 hours of practice driving.
The graduated licensing system offers a great framework for helping to support new drivers, but parents should also enforce their own family rules for driving.
The State of Driving in Kansas
Don't let the easy driving through Kansas's wide vistas and low-traffic cities blind you to the fact that there are dangers on the road in the Sunflower State. Make sure you know what kinds of challenges to expect before you get behind the wheel so you can continue to enjoy the good life in Kansas.