Distracted driving contributes to increase in Nebraska traffic fatalities in 2017

Traffic fatalities in Nebraska are up in 2017 in at least two key categories: pedestrian- and motorcycle-related deaths.

Fred Zwonechek, the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office administrator, said that increase may be attributable to distracted driving.

So far in 2017, 226 traffic fatalities have been recorded in Nebraska. In 2016, 217 were recorded.

The number of pedestrian fatalities is at 19 for 2017, compared with 12 in 2016. Motorcycle fatalities have totaled 26 in 2017, up from 20 in 2016.

Two crashes over the summer added seven motorcyclists’ deaths to the 2017 totals:

» Four Iowa motorcyclists died July 1 when their two bikes were struck by an SUV that crossed the center line on U.S. Highway 26 near Ogallala.

» A June 10 crash at 72nd and Cass Streets in Omaha killed three people when two motorcycles collided in the intersection.

Zwonechek said authorities in Nebraska are making headway against distracted driving.

“A driver who is driving recklessly as a result of driving distracted can be pulled over and cited for that violation,” he said.

“If they are observed texting, they may be cited for both reckless driving and texting and driving.”

Iowa has had 329 fatalities in 2017, compared with 397 in 2016. Iowa also is targeting texting and driving, said Dennis Kleen of the Department of Transportation.

“Many fatal crashes are single vehicles that run off the roadway,” he said. “You would think the driver is either distracted, impaired, drowsy or a combination of these.”

Distracted driving probably is underreported in crashes, Kleen noted.

“Starting in July of this year we improved our texting law. It is now a primary offense, which has led to increased enforcement,” he said. “We think making it a primary violation for all drivers will have an impact on lowering fatalities in Iowa.”

Zwonechek also noted these Nebraska numbers:

» Fatalities on rural roads are down to 148 from 157 in 2016. That’s the lowest number in six years.

» Fatalities on urban roads are up to 78 from 60 in 2016. That’s the highest total in six years.

» Although Nebraska’s 86 percent rate of seat belt use for 2017 set a record, 116 of the 160 passenger-vehicle fatalities, or about 72 percent, were not using seat belts at the time of the crash.

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