Nebraska recently joined a nationwide effort to reduce the number of fatalities that occur on the nation’s roadways, specifically, the deadly stretches of Interstates 80 and 35. Due in large part to the number of people who take to the nation’s highways for summer vacations during August, the month has received an unwelcome designation as the deadliest month in recent years for motorists traveling on I-80. In an effort to raise awareness and step up enforcement efforts by law enforcement agencies, Nebraska has joined the “I-80/I-35 Challenge” which is aimed at reducing the number of fatalities that occur during August, and year around, along I-80/I-35.
I-80 runs east to west across the United States while I-35 runs north to south. Between the two there is almost 4,400 miles or roadway that is heavily traveled year around. According to Nebraska State Patrol Colonel Bradley Rice the month of August has historically been particularly deadly along I-80, and 2015 is shaping up to be one of the deadliest yet. In a recent four year period, from 2009-2013, 92 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes along I-80 in the month of August along, with 12 of those fatalities occurring in Nebraska. Just this year, two fatalities have already occurred on the state’s highways in the first have of August. The year-to-date figures for deaths on Nebraska’s roadways are not encouraging either. So far, 149 people have lost their lives on Nebraska’s roadways in 2015 compared to 143 at the same time last year.
Governor Pete Ricketts says he’s thrown his support behind efforts to reduce deaths – not only on the 455 miles of Interstate 80 in the state – but all highways. As part of the I-80/I-35 Challenge more law enforcement officers will be on the state’s roadways starting immediately. Statistics show that when law enforcement officers are more visible, drivers adjust their driving behavior accordingly.
Although there are several factors that contribute to the high number of deaths along the I-80/I-35 highways, drinking and driving remains at the top of the list with one out of every three collisions is alcohol related, according to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety. Law enforcement efforts during the challenge, and year around, will be aimed at identifying and arresting motorists who are driving under the influence. “We’ll be watching for those people who choose to drive while intoxicated and put our citizens at risk,” said G.I. Police Chief Steve Lamken. The “Challenge” will coordinate with another ongoing campaign – “You Drink, You Drive, You Lose” – that is already focusing on reducing the number of drunk drivers on the state’s roadways. “If we were even close to the same amount of loses being caused by crimes such as burglaries, assaults and robberies in our state, in our communities, there would be a cry for swift action and to stop it and bring it to an end,” said Lamken. “Yet, drunk driving continues.” The Nebraska State Patrol along with 31 sheriff’s offices and 20 police departments across the state are all taking part in the “You Drink, You Drive, You Lose” which began earlier this month and will end after Labor Day.