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. (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.


“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In 1986, state voters rescinded a law passed a year earlier that required seat belt use.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.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.