Editorial: Distracted driving puts road crews, police at risk
By World-Herald Editorial Board, Omaha World-Herald, April 12, 2018
The orange cones are out. Workers are filling potholes. Crews are working on road-construction projects and utility upgrades. And the full arrival of warm weather will increase their numbers.
Many drivers realize the importance of driving carefully when they approach a road-work site. But too many others unfortunately do not. Such irresponsibility can have tragic consequences. In 2016, eight crashes in Nebraska work zones killed 13 people.
“Believe it or not,” says Mark Segerstrom, with the Nebraska Safety Council, “Nebraska has averaged about 950 work zone crashes every year for the last couple of years.” He spoke at a Monday press conference highlighting the need for motorists to drive responsibly and, these days, avoid distractions through cell phone use.
Nationwide, motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers took the lives of 3,450 people in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Police, ambulance crews and tow truck drivers all can also be at risk. Passing motorists struck three State Patrol cruisers during the past three months, State Patrol Superintendent Col. John Bolduc said at the press conference.
Drivers struck two road-construction workers in Lincoln in December. That same month, a pickup truck struck Omaha tow truck driver Larry Miller along Interstate 80 in Omaha. Miller lost part of a right leg, has undergone months of physical therapy and now relies on a wheelchair to get around.
Miller, who spoke at the press conference, will be featured in public service radio spots this month urging responsible driving. Another spot will feature Heath Smith, whose father, Ken, was struck and killed by a drunken driver while filling potholes in Lincoln 17 years ago.
“When we're out driving, we have one job,” Segerstrom says. “That is to put our phone down and remain engaged in our driving environment.”
This summer, the Nebraska Department of Transportation will underscore that message with new signs at road-work zones that read: “ROAD WORK NEXT ___ MILES. NO CELL PHONE USE.” That call for responsible driving, without distraction, is one that all Nebraskans should heed when behind the wheel.