Highway safety measures worthy of future debate

Thursday, July 6, 2017

If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it really make a sound?

If a policeman doesn’t issue you a ticket for driving while texting or not wearing a seatbelt, does your state really prohibit those activities?

No, at least not effectively, says Mark Segerstrom, Road Safety Project Coordinator for the Nebraska Safety Council.

He points out a National Safety Councilstudy that gives Nebraska a “D” rating in road safety.

“This absence of a primary seat belt law for all occupants of a vehicle is unfortunate when you consider that an unbuckled passenger increases the chance of hurting or killing others in the vehicle by 40 percent,” he said.

The statistics seem to back him up. Of 191 passenger vehicle fatalities in Nebraska in 2015, 74 percent were unbuckled. More than a third of those were thrown from their vehicle, and 100 percent of the teen fatalities on Nebraska roads were unbuckled.

Segerstrom points to other states which have taken steps to improve safety, such as Tennessee, which now requires mandatory seat belts for all occupants of a vehicle, Iowa, which enacted a new primary texting law July 1 which makes it illegal to text or manipulate any social media on your phone while behind the wheel, and New York, which will require 55 mph speed limits in urban areas, lower school zone speed limits and install red light cameras.

Speed was a major factor is an average of 21 fatal crashes each year in Nebraska since 2008, an improvement from the previous three years, he noted. Segerstrom called for other measures, however, such as requiring bike helmets for all young riders, laws protecting “Good Samaritans” for helping unattended children in hot cars, one year of passenger restrictions for teens with Provisional Operator’s Permits, a 10 p.m. curfew for such teens and a requirement for supervised driving minimums of 50 hours plus 10 nighttime hours for non-drivers education applicants.

He decried the lack of action on such issues in the recent session of the Legislature.

To be fair, the Legislature had plenty of business on its plate this session, not the least of which was passing a budget to keep the state running.

Plus, Nebraskans are far from a consensus on how much “freedom” are we willing to sacrifice in the name of safety — a move to remove the requirement for motorcycle helmets failed on the other end of the spectrum as well.

Then, there’s the matter of enforcement. The Nebraska State Patrol, in the midst of a shakeup in the wake of the firing of its superintendent and suspension of a number of administrators, is in no position to take on extra duties.

Local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors across the state are likely to have their own opinion on additional responsibilities as well.

But the number of lives that could be saved, and the cost to society will certainly be worthy topics of debate on the state and local level in the near future.

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