March 26, 2015

Study: More teens are driving (and crashing) while distracted

Car Crash -- Teens (AAA photo)A new study of hundreds of dash-cam video recordings of teenage drivers in Nebraska and elsewhere who were involved in crashes finds they’re a lot more distracted than originally thought.

Gail Weinholzer, at AAA-Nebraska, says the comprehensive research found significant evidence that distracted driving is likely a much more serious problem than previously known.

“We found that 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes involved distraction, which is 4 times more than has been reported on police records,” Weinholzer says. “Of course, the average person isn’t going to admit to law enforcement that they were horsing around with other teenagers or talking on their cell phone.”

Researchers analyzed the 6 seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders.

“The #1 cause was interacting with one or more teen passengers, that was 15% of all crashes,” Weinholzer says. “Cell phone use, whether it be dialing the phone, talking on the phone, using it to text or something of that nature was 12% of all crashes, and daydreaming and looking around at what was going on outside of the car not relevant to the driving process was about ten percent.” Other top distractions include: singing and moving to music, grooming and reaching for an object.

An earlier federal study had estimated distraction is a factor in only 14% of all teen driver crashes. This new study study showed distraction was a factor in 58% of all crashes studied, including 89% of road-departure crashes and 76% of rear-end crashes.

The motor club says parents play a critical role in preventing distracted driving.

“Parents need to model good behavior,” Weinholzer says. “If their teens are seeing them texting and driving or talking on the cell phone and driving, it’s no surprise that the teens are going to do that themselves. Second, parents need to limit the number of teens in the vehicle as well as the cell phone use that’s going on in the vehicle.”

Those things might be accomplished, she suggests, with parent-teen contracts and through stronger graduated drivers licensing laws.

Researchers found that drivers who were using their cell phone had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final 6 seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found that teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before the impact, meaning, they crashed without braking or steering.


Deadline for farmers to pick new Farm Bill programs is March 31st

corn fieldNebraska farmers only have a week remaining to decide which federal farm program is best for them.

Jeff Davis, with the Farm Services Agency, says March 31st is the last day farmers can elect between the three farm bill programs. Davis explains the provisions of the ARC-co which is based on county figures.

“So, you use your county yields and prices to create a revenue,” Davis says. “If our county doesn’t reach that, you get paid on whatever base you have in that commodity and you can receive the payment no matter whether you plant the commodity or not.”

Davis says farmers may want to inquire about the ARC-ic program which allows farmers to place all farms under one program.

“That deals with the revenues for the entire farm, which can mean two or three different farm numbers,” Davis says. “It’s everything that’s in that program. That’s a little more difficult to explain. You’d have to just sit and go through the numbers with that one.”

Farmers have another option, too:

“We have the PLC program which is all based on price,” Davis says. “If price goes for corn below $3.70, then there would be a payment, but that would be an average price for the marketing year. At this point, they are projecting a little bit, possibly, of a payment but we’ll have to wait and see on that.”

Davis says whatever farm program a farmer decides upon, they will remain with that program through 2018. He says farmers can also sign up one farm with one program and another farm with a second program, or they can split the programs with different crops.

He encourages farmers to visit their county FSA office prior to next Tuesday’s deadline in order to have all of the options explained.

Time to prepare for foul weather from floods to twisters

Downtown Pilger after last June's tornado

Downtown Pilger after last June’s tornado

We’re likely done with blizzards for a while, but now it’s time for Nebraskans to focus on being prepared for the challenges of the warm weather months ahead. This is the start of Severe Weather Awareness Week.

Meteorologist Kenny Podrazik, at the National Weather Service, says today’s focus is on flooding and flash flooding, while tomorrow, it’ll be on watches, warnings and how you get them.

“Wednesday will be tornado day, so we’ll be concentrating on tornadoes with a statewide tornado drill beginning at 10 AM, simulating how the National Weather Service and all of our partners cover a tornado watch and tornado warnings,” Podrazik says.

In one of last year’s worst twister incidents, a pair of EF4 tornadoes touched down in and around the northeast Nebraska town of PilgerĀ on June 16th. Two people were killed, 20 people were critically hurt and a large section of the town was demolished.

Tornadoes can strike any month of the year, but Nebraska’s peak months are April, May and June.

“Thursday, we’ll be covering severe thunderstorms,” Podrazik says. “They’re sometimes just as potent as tornadoes, with large damaging hail and very strong winds, they can be prevalent.” The emphasis Friday will be on family preparedness for severe weather.

Learn more at:

Nebraska students rally to help make next generation smoke-free

KickButtsYoung anti-smoking activists across Nebraska will stand up to Big Tobacco today in joining their counterparts nationwide for the 20th annual Kick Butts Day.

John Schachter, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says numerous events are planned in Nebraska, all focused on clearing the air.

“Young people across the country are sending out the message they’re sick and tired of being targeted by the tobacco industry’s manipulative marketing and they’re coming together to reject it,” Schachter says. “We will see more than 1,000 Kick Butts Day events across the country, with everybody working together to make the next generation tobacco-free.”

Some events in Nebraska today will be as simple as organizing groups of students to walk along roadways and pick up cigarette butts and empty cigarette packs.

“You’re going to see rallies at the state capitol to educate legislators about the importance of fully funding tobacco prevention efforts,” Schachter says. “Some groups will do things like a billboard of ribbons and glow-sticks with facts about the tobacco industry’s deceptive tactics. There will be groups of kids who will survey tobacco retailers to see if they’ve thought about going tobacco-free.”

A tobacco industry document reportedly refers to young people as “replacements,” meaning, replacement smokers for the half-million people who die every year from tobacco.

“We are encouraging young people across the country to take selfies with a statement that says, ‘I’m not a replacement, I am…’ and they’re filling in what they really are,” Schachter says. “Are they an activist, are they an advocate, are they an athlete, are they a musician, are they a future astronaut? They can put in whatever they want and they are posting these selfies to our gallery on our website.”

In Nebraska, tobacco use claims 2,500 lives and costs $795-million in health care bills each year. The latest survey finds 11% of Nebraska’s high school students smoke.

Nationwide, Schachter says tobacco companies spend $8.8 billion a year — or one million dollars every hour — to market tobacco products. In Nebraska, tobacco companies spend $59-million annually on marketing efforts.


In Nebraska, a few of the activities today include:

No Limits Nebraska will bus 100 students to Lincoln to lead a rally at the State Capitol to educate senators about the importance of fully-funded tobacco prevention movements. Time: 8 AM. Location: 1445 K Street, Lincoln.

Students from Schuyler Central High School will create a billboard of ribbons and glow sticks with facts about the tobacco industry’s deceptive tactics. Time: 3:45 PM. Location: 401 Adams Street, Schuyler.

Students from Northeast Community College in Norfolk will promote the #NotAReplacement campaign in the student center. Time: 1 PM. Location: 801 E. Benjamin Avenue, Norfolk.

On March 23, students from Columbus Middle School will collaborate with Tobacco Free Platte County to place a tobacco-free message in cups along the main fence of the school, and play jeopardy to learn the dangers of tobacco. Time: 3 PM. Location: 2410 16th Street, Columbus. Contact: Jamie Rodriguez (402) 563-9656 ext. 265.

For a full list of Kick Butts Day activities in Nebraska, visit

Check the treasurer’s list, you could be due a big check

Treasurer Stenberg (bottom right) and the Unclaimed Property Division staff review the pages of the 2015 Unclaimed Property Report. The 44-page tabloid appears in Nebraska daily newspapers in March and April.

Treasurer Stenberg (bottom right) and the Unclaimed Property Division staff review the pages of the 2015 Unclaimed Property Report. The 44-page tabloid appears in Nebraska daily newspapers in March and April.

Hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans and former residents are wealthier than they know.

State Treasurer Don Stenberg says his office has millions of dollars in unclaimed property just waiting for its rightful owners.

“By law, we’re required to publish in all of the statewide newspapers the list of the names of persons that we’ve received unclaimed property for in the last year,” Stenberg says. “That’s a surprisingly large number. We’ve received unclaimed property for more than 40,000 Nebraskans last year.”

The value of the unclaimed property just from 2014 reached $17-million.

The Omaha World-Herald and Scottsbluff Star-Herald have already published the list of names and Stenberg says more than 1,300 people made claims, so far.

Overall, more than 350,000 current and former Nebraskans have nearly $135-million in property they may not know about and Stenberg says it comes from a wide variety of sources.

“It could be a utility deposit or a rent deposit that was forgotten about, it could be a bank account that was forgotten about, it could be a safe deposit box, life insurance payment that was due and they couldn’t find the beneficiary,” Stenberg says. “There’s a whole variety of possibilities, bank accounts, stocks, dividends and so forth.”

The list is available at and will be published in many of the state’s newspapers through early April.

By Paul Hughes, WJAG, Norfolk