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Fatal accidents down in Nebraska
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Fatal accidents down in Nebraska

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Fatal accidents in Nebraska are down by nearly half so far this year. 

From January to March, 34 people died in roadway crashes, compared to 63 deaths for the same period in 2015. 

According to the Office of Highway Safety, it is the second lowest number of deaths from traffic accidents for the time period since 1946.

Nebraska Highway Safety Administrator Fred Zwonechek said he thinks drivers are simply making fewer mistakes.

"Ninety-four percent of fatal accidents involve a driver who makes a mistake," he said Friday. "So it would stand to reason that hopefully we have drivers who didn't make those mistakes during this time period. Perhaps they're driving a little more carefully."

Zwonechek hopes the decline is due to a combination of public information and education targeting young drivers and men ages 18 to 34. 

"Those are the groups who are over-represented in those crashes," he said.

The Office of Highway Safety works with law enforcement, parents and public health organizations to help spread information regarding safe driving. 

"Our goal is to try and prevent every one of these fatalities," Zwonechek said. "We still lost 34 people."

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Although a goal of zero fatalities may sound unrealistic, he said it's possible.

"We have to have the mindset that we are able to prevent these from occurring," he said. "We are all responsible for keeping the statistics down and to prevent these from happening."

In 2011, 31 fatalities were reported. The next fewest for the period was 1949, with 35 deaths. Fatalities in urban areas are down 53 percent in 2016 compared to last year, and those in rural areas are down 43 percent. Dramatic drops in motorcycle and pedestrian fatalities are reported, as well.

This year, one motorcycle death occurred during the first quarter, compared to six last year. Three pedestrians died this year on Nebraska roads, compared to six during the first quarter of 2015.

Of the 34 fatalities so far this year, 30 were in passenger vehicles. Of those, Zwonechek said, seven people were wearing seat belts. 

"The remaining 23 who weren't. Had they been wearing them, more than half of those people would have likely survived that collision," he said. "We still have a problem when seven out of 10 people are not wearing seat belts at the time of a crash."

Wearing a seat belt is the "simplest, quickest, less intricate" thing anyone can do to keep themselves safe while traveling, Zwonecek said.

"You're not always going to be the one who makes the mistake. Someone else may."

Meanwhile, the Nebraska State Patrol said Friday it has conducted safety programs at more than 100 locations across the state during the first three months of this year, reaching some 18,000 people with the message that seat belts save lives.

Troopers use the Seat Belt Convincer and Driving Simulator to show drivers, particularly teen drivers, the value of seat belts, the patrol said in a news release. Drivers 16 to 20 represent the highest number of unbelted fatalities, the patrol said.

"We are coming up on a very busy time of the year for our teen drivers,” Lt. Col. Thomas Schwarten said in the news release. “With proms, graduations and summer celebrations, we hope to reach out to as many groups as possible in an effort to drive home the important role seat belts play in saving lives.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7395 or nmanna@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNicholeManna.

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