Bloody weekend reinforces need for safe driving

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It was a bloody weekend on Nebraska highways.

From Friday, July 12, through Monday morning, July 15, seven people were killed in five separate crashes on Nebraska roads in Lancaster, Cass, Cuming, Douglas and Madison counties.

That adds up to 107 people dead in crashes in 2013, compared to 101 on this same date last year.

"We are in the heart of the summer travel season, and it is a very busy time," said Col. David Sankey, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. "From automobiles to recreational vehicles, motorcycles and farm implements, we must all share the road. It is vital when we get behind the wheel that we choose to make safety our top priority."

His advice is simple: Obey the posted speed limit, always wear seat belts, and never drive impaired or distracted.

Safety starts at home, of course; always plan ahead to allow plenty of time to travel. If you see an impaired or reckless driver, call, when it is safe to do so, the NSP Highway Helpline at *55 from any cellular phone, of (800) 525-5555 from any landline.

You can check the road and weather conditions by calling 511, the Nebraska Automated Traveler Information System, which can also be reached at www.511.nebraska.gov, the Mobile Traveler Site at http://www.ndortraveler.mobi or calling 511 (800-906-9069) from any landline or cellular phone for more information.

It was interesting to watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger film from 2000 over the weekend, in which he and a co-worker hopped into an fully automated pickup truck -- the outside looked like a 2000 Chevy but the inside looked more like a 2013 model, complete with an in-dash navigation system.

Thankfully, we're not likely to encounter clones of ourselves the way Schwarzenegger did in the film, but the autonomous automobile is closer than we think.

Nevada, Florida and California have legalized the use of self-driving cars for testing purposes, spurred by the driverless car project brought to you by the same Google people who put Street View on your computer.

You still have to drive -- except when using the automatic parking feature on some cars -- but it's surprising how much cars already do on their own.

They check the air pressure in their tires, alerting you with a light or tone it it's low. If that doesn't work, some cars have special tires that allow them to go as fast as 50 mph on flats.

They have cruise control that keeps you a safe distance from other cars, or applies brakes and tightens your seatbelt if it senses a collision coming.

If you signal a lane change while another car is in your blind spot, it may warn you with a tone, flashing lights or vibration of the steering wheel. Or, it may warn you if you're drifting out of your lane. Future cars may slow or stop if they notice you are nodding off.

If you turn a corner too fast or swerve sharply, you car may apply the brakes and let off the throttle to help you maintain control.

Its airbags adjust themselves to the weight and position of passengers, it may have infrared or thermal-imaging cameras to help you spot animals, people or trees in the path, as well as auto-dimming, directional or speed-sensitive headlights.

Your car may have a rearview camera to help you avoid backing over someone or something, and if all else fails and the airbags deploy, it may turn on the interior lights, shut off fuel and disconnect the battery terminal and even call 911 with accident information.

Modern cars are safer than ever, but for now, they still require us to buckle up and be sober and attentive when we're behind the wheel.

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