Briefly

Nebraskans lag country in use of seat belts, as fatal wrecks increase

By: - May 19, 2022 1:28 pm
Traffic along Interstate 80

Traffic flows along Interstate 80 east of exit 432 in Gretna. Law enforcement officials say Nebraska drivers lag in buckling up n the road. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Tthe Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Nebraskans are lagging the nation in using seat belts while driving, which officials said Thursday has contributed to a 30% increase in highway fatalities.

Only 81% of Nebraskans buckle up, making the state 47th in the country in the use of safety belts. The national average is 90%.

“It’s a two-second action that can significantly increase your safety,” Col. John Bolduc, the superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said about putting on a seat belt.

Lifesaver

“It could very likely save a life in a crash,” Bolduc said.

At a news conference Thursday, the Patrol, along with law enforcement officials from Omaha, Lincoln and Lancaster County, announced a stepped-up enforcement effort, “Click It or Ticket,” to increase seat belt usage.

Bolduc said the summer driving season is sometimes called “the 100 deadliest days” due to the number of fatal accidents.

Last year, Nebraska bucked a national trend by having fewer deaths in highway crashes, 220, than in 2020, according to John Selmer, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Useage has dropped

But in 2022, fatalities are up more than 30%, Selmer said, mirroring the national trends. Through April, 84 people have died on Nebraska highways, compared with 61 traffic fatalities in the same period a year ago.

He recommended that drivers buckle up and put down their cell phones.

Seat belt usage reduces the chances of dying in an accident by 45%, officials said. But seat-belt usage has dropped from 86% in Nebraska since 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Tortured history

Nebraska has a tortured history when it comes to requiring seat belt use.

In 1986, state voters rescinded a law passed a year earlier that required seat belt use. The main issue in the campaign was individual rights.

In 1993, under pressure of losing federal highway funds, a new seat belt law went into effect.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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