Nebraska traffic fatalities up 30% from this time last year

Official blames low seat belt use

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Fatal crashes are on the rise in Nebraska, despite the total number of crashes holding steady and decreasing in some areas.

The 84 traffic fatalities so far in 2022 compares with 61 at about this time last year, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

“So if we stay at this over 30% above average, by the end of this year, we could see over 300 fatalities in Nebraska, and that’s really way higher than we want to see,” said Bill Kovarik, the department’s highway safety administrator.

Kovarik attributes the increase to a lack of seat belt use.

“In many of the fatalities recently, the people have not been wearing seat belts, and that’s something that we really need to get a change in behavior on,” he said.

Kovarik said Nebraska has the fourth-lowest seat belt usage in the nation.

One reason may be that officers can’t pull you over simply for not wearing a seat belt. You have to be doing something else as well, like speeding.

Most vehicles have seat belts now, and every year, car manufacturers are figuring out new ways to remind people to put them on.

“Most people know that they need to wear their seat belt, but they forget to put it on,” said Andy Goodyear, general manager at Honda of Lincoln. “That’s something they are working on right now, to make it a louder alarm to put your seatbelt on for a longer time.”

But seat belts won’t curb the rise in pedestrian fatalities nationwide and right here in Lincoln.

One newer safety feature aims to combat that.

The forward collision warning “will actually apply the brakes if someone stops in front of you, or actually runs out in front of the car,” Goodyear said. “It will sense that, and it will apply the brakes on the car.”

And the infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year requires manufacturers to install an anti-drunken driving system in all new vehicles.

Kovarik said the device — “not a breathalyzer per se, but some other kind of a sensor or warning” — would prevent the car from turning on if a person is impaired.

“That’s in the future, probably a few years away,” he said.

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