Traffic fatalities in Nebraska and Iowa this year have remained near or below last year's numbers at the same point.
In Nebraska through last week there had been 92 fatalities since January, the same number as 2012. In Iowa, there had been 133 fatalities as of last week, down 43 from last year.
Fred Zwonechek, Nebraska highway safety administrator, said Nebraska's fatality rate has remained steady. Since 2008, the fatality count for the state has hovered between 190 and 223 deaths, which is well below the number of yearly fatalities recorded during the previous 10 years, 1998 to 2007.
Dennis Kleen, a researcher at the Iowa Department of Transportation, said the decrease so far this year in Iowa fatalities is not significant. “I guess you could say this is low, but it could all change if we were to have a bad week or two,” Kleen said.
The week of the Fourth of July could be one of those weeks.
“Quite often we see a spike in fatalities over holiday weekends due to the increased amounts of vehicles on the road,” Kleen said. “But that can be hard to predict.”
The holiday means more cars will be out on the roads. Kleen emphasized that there is a continuing need for care and diligence while driving with the extra traffic.
The easiest way to stay safe is simple: use a seat belt.
Zwonechek said 73 percent of Nebraskans who were killed in traffic accidents during the past six months were not using seat belts at the time.
A similar trend emerged in Iowa. Kleen said more than one-third of people who died in car crashes were not using seat belts.
“If everyone would just buckle up and pay attention to driving, I think we could see these numbers drop even more,” Kleen said.
Many of the Iowa crashes resulted from drivers losing control or crossing the center line. That could be due to distraction or inattentiveness by drivers.
In Nebraska, excessive speed was a factor in more than one-third of fatal crashes, Zwonechek said.
Safe driving tips
July is the most dangerous month on roads and highways, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In July 2011, nearly 3,000 people were killed in traffic accidents nationwide. The Traffic Safety Coalition urges drivers to follow these tips to ensure safe travels this holiday:
» Obey traffic laws and posted speed limits. The few minutes saved by speeding or running a red light are not worth the risk.
» Never drink and drive. Always have a sober ride home or know the number of a local taxi service. If you spot a vehicle you think may be operated by an impaired driver, contact law enforcement.
» Get enough sleep. Drowsy driving is a factor in nearly 17 percent of fatal crashes, reports the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. If you get tired while driving, pull over. Staying safe is more important than getting to your destination on time.
» Buckle up. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 86 percent of Americans buckle up, but 3,379 more lives could be saved if everyone used a seat belt.
» Put down the cellphone. It can wait. Texting takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that is enough time to travel the length of a football field — blind.
— World-Herald News Service