- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The number of roadway fatalities in Nebraska has barely changed this year compared to the same period in 2013, and most of those killed weren’t wearing seat belts, state officials said Thursday.

The traffic fatality numbers were released in advance of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, when Nebraska’s roads are busier than usual. State officials encouraged motorists to wear seat belts, follow speed limits and avoid distractions such as texting while driving.

Nebraska kicked off its annual “Click it or Ticket” seat belt campaign this week, which runs through June 1.

Officials said 74 people have died in crashes so far 2014, compared with 73 during the same period last year. Of the 67 people who were killed in a passenger vehicle crash, 49 were not wearing seat belts. A total of 212 people died in crashes last year.

“Each of these fatalities represents a family whose loved one is no longer with them,” Gov. Dave Heineman said at a highway safety news conference at the Nebraska State Patrol headquarters in Lincoln. “Their loss should get everyone’s attention.”

Col. David Sankey, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said a disproportionate number of the deaths came from single-vehicle rollover crashes.

“The vast majority of those who have lost their lives in these crashes were not wearing their seat belts,” Sankey said, and those who are buckled in during a crash increase their odds of survival by up to 50 percent.

Sankey said troopers are called to fatal crashes on different kinds of roads, but many of the single-vehicle rollover crashes are happening on rural county roads.

Nebraska requires motorists to wear seat belts, but treats violations as a secondary offense, meaning officers can only ticket motorists after stopping them for another reason. Heineman said Thursday that he was comfortable with current state law, arguing that education was an effective tool to promote seat belt usage.

“Whether there’s a law or not, whether it’s a primary offense of a secondary offense, everybody should buckle up every time,” he said.

Nebraska Department of Roads director Randy Peters said motorists should also use caution when driving near highway construction projects. Peters said most construction-site crashes occur in daylight, at speeds of 55 miles per hour of more.

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