Senator wants to see road safety become primary

2014-01-10T17:15:00Z 2014-01-10T21:11:22Z Senator wants to see road safety become primaryBy JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star

State Sen. John Harms wants the state to get serious about seat-belt use, texting and cellphone use by novice drivers and by adults driving school buses.

He wants to move violation of those laws from secondary to primary offenses, so a cop can ticket you without having to have another excuse to pull you over.  

Harms introduced the Nebraska Roadway Safety Act (LB807) on Friday.

From the time he was elected to the Legislature he has been concerned about people's safety on the roads. Harms and his wife, Pat, have driven the 425 miles to Lincoln and 425 miles back to Scottsbluff one to four times a month during the session for the past seven years.

He's seen a lot of distracted drivers. And he's introduced a number of bills to address safety. 

Now the senator, in his last year due to term limits, wants to make one more swipe at modernizing key traffic safety laws.

He brings up oft-quoted statistics: A crash is 23 times more likely to happen if you're texting; you take your eyes off the road an average 4.6 seconds for each character you text.

And, you and your kids are safer in a seat belt.

His office will get negative feedback about making driving or riding without a seat belt a primary offense, he said, and most of it will come from rural drivers.

"The one thing that people don't really understand when you have this discussion is ... when you get in your car and you don't flip that thing in, you're breaking the law," he said. "The problem is we can't stop you for that particular reason."

You have to be speeding or run a stop light or commit some other primary violation, he said.

Harms discounted the idea that making the violations primary offenses could contribute to racial profiling, giving police another excuse to stop minority drivers.

"This is about safety," he said.

It's about preventing loss of lives and the trauma a community goes through when people, especially young people, die in crashes.

He has the backing of the National Safety Council Nebraska, AAA Nebraska and the Nebraska Medical Association.

"During the past 10 years, more than 1,400 unbelted men, women and children have lost their lives on Nebraska roadways," said Rose White of AAA Nebraska.

Distracted driving is a huge issue to overcome, he said, but the Legislature has to start somewhere.

"I've learned that you don't make a lot of major changes in this process," Harms said. "You just be thankful for what you get and move on. And a few years later you come back and you chip away at it."

Eventually, he said, the state will be where he'd like to see it.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Voter identification

Legislature shelves voter photo ID bill

The Nebraska Legislature voted Wednesday to table a hotly contested voter photo ID bill for the remainder of the 2015 legislative session, bringing an early end to a two-day filibuster.

Reclassification for abortion clinics

Abortion clinics would face higher standards under lawmaker's plan

Clinics in Nebraska that perform five or more abortions a month would face stricter care standards under a bill introduced by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha on Friday.

Winner-take-all elections

Winner-take-all bill blocked and likely done for the year

The legislative proposal to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all presidential electoral vote system was trapped Tuesday by a successful filibuster and essentially blocked from further consideration this session.

Assistance for family-planning services

Family planning, women's preventive health bill fails in Legislature

Senators attempting to enhance family planning for low-income Nebraska women fell short Thursday because of a looming question about whether any of the funds could include abortion counseling.

Mandatory minimum sentences

Mandatory minimum sentences could end in Nebraska

Prosecutors, the Omaha mayor’s office and law enforcement took aim Wednesday at Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers' bills to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for gun charges and habitual offenders.

Concealed weapons in private schools

Bill would allow private school security to carry concealed weapons

Gun rights supporters in the Legislature are attempting to slowly add to Nebraska's concealed carry legislation.

Online petition signatures

Online petition signatures would be allowed under bill

Petition circulators could leave the streets and gather signatures on the information superhighway if the Legislature OKs a plan put forth by a lawmaker from Columbus.