A tragic traffic accident Christmas Day left us shocked and saddened, and our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the accident.
They aren't alone. Traffic deaths are up 14 percent this year compared to 2011, which had one of the lowest highway fatality rates on record.
As of Thursday, 205 people had been killed on highways, compared to 180 in 2011. The most significant increase was on county roads in rural areas, where fatalities were up 51 percent.
Last year, 41 deaths were reported on county roads in rural areas through Dec. 27, compared to 62 so far this year.
Many fatalities were unbelted drivers or passengers ejected from their vehicle during a rollover crash.
The statistics make it especially important that New Year's Eve partygoers plan ahead to get home safely.
Janssen Kool Honda and other Janssen Auto Group dealerships are offering free rides for local revelers; in McCook call Joe Slaby at 308-520-1774 until 1:30 a.m. New Year's Day.
Of course, it's better to avoid the need for a designated driver altogether.
Regardless, AAA Nebraska offers the following advice for partygoers:
Always plan ahead to designate a non-drinking driver before any party or celebration begins
Never get behind the wheel of a car when you've been drinking alcohol -- even after just one drink
Never ride as a passenger in a car driven by someone who has been drinking alcohol -- even after just one drink
Do not hesitate to take the keys from friends or family members who may be impaired
Call a taxi for a friend in need
Be a responsible host in reminding guests to stay safe and always offer alcohol-free beverages
If you encounter an impaired driver on the road, keep a safe distance and ask a passenger to call 911 or *55 (or pull over to a safe location to make the call yourself)
Remember: prescription, over-the-counter medications and illegal drugs also can impair your ability to drive safely.
AAA's website, PreventDUIAAA.com, encourages visitors to Take the Pledge to drive drug- and alcohol-free.
Last year, 1,822 alcohol-related crashes occurred on Nebraska roadways, resulting in 1,185 injuries and 51 deaths.
Nebraska law enforcement officers arrested more than 12,000 motorists in 2011 on drunk driving charges. More than one-third of all fatal crashes on Nebraska roadways are alcohol relates, AAA said.
As an added incentive Monday night's Rotary-sponsored First Night celebration offers plenty of alcohol-free entertainment.