Every Nebraska teen killed in car crashes last year was not wearing a seat belt, according to a recently released annual report from the Nebraska Department of Roads.
Teen drivers make up less than 10 percent of Nebraskans behind the wheel, but account for 1 in 5 accidents, the report says.
Seventeen teens died in accidents in the state in 2016. Those deaths may have been prevented by buckling up, said Mark Segerstrom, road safety project coordinator for Nebraska Safety Council.
Parents and adults are responsible for teaching young people safe-driving practices, he said.
Teens lack driving experience and research shows they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as distracted driving, speeding or not wearing a seat belt, because their brains are still developing.
"Whether we like it or not, young people are frequently looking up to us as role models," Segerstrom said.
He hopes more families continue discussing safe driving techniques even after teens pass driving exams and receive their license.
"Just because a young person qualifies for their permit or license, that doesn't mean they have all the tools they need to go out on the road," he said.
Nebraskans wear seat belts less than the rest of the country, according to the NDOR. A 2016 study shows the state has an 83 percent observed rate of usage, compared with 90 percent for the country.
Only the driver, front-seat passengers and children are required to wear a seat belt, according to Nebraska's secondary enforcement law. In 2016, the NDOR reports nearly 7,000 Nebraskans were ticketed for violating the law.
Segerstrom said seat belt usage is especially problematic in rural areas, where crash fatalities are five times more likely to occur than in an urban environment, according to a four-year study by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Rural roads tend to be built with less engineering, Segerstrom said. Roads are sometimes narrower, have limited shoulders and closer ditches, and sometimes consist of dirt or gravel, which present different challenges to drivers.
No matter the location, Segerstrom said wearing a seat belt and practicing safe driving habits are key to arriving safely. Those not wearing seat belts are nearly three times as likely to die when in an accident, DHHS reported.
"None of us ever leave the house expecting to be in an accident," Segerstrom said.