March 28, 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.


Man pleads no contest in hit-and-run death

A 33-year-old man who initially fled the scene after running over and killing a pedestrian last May has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.

James Gibbs of Panama later turned himself in after hitting 62-year-old Gregory Nicklas with his pick-up late in the evening of May 29th. Gibbs was driving home from a bar. Nicklas was walking his dog near his rural Hickman home.

Prosecutors first charged Gibbs with failing to stop and render aid. Gibbs agreed to plead no contest to a charge of manslaughter.

Omaha man dies in head-on crash near Lincoln

One person died, another suffered critical injury in a head-on collision near Lincoln Sunday.

Chief Lancaster County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Bleimeister tells reporters during a media briefing that 31-year-old Mario Garcia of Omaha died at the scene. 44-year-old Merri Bradley of rural Crete has been taken to Bryan Medical Center, where she is listed in critical condition.

Bleimeister says Garcia was driving north on Southwest 100th Street between Nebraska Highway 33 and Wittstruck Road when his car crossed the center line and hit Bradley’s southbound car.

Bliemeister says they are attempting to determine why Garcia’s car crossed into the northbound lane.

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.

Fire heavily damages Jefferson County hog lot, 200+ firefighters respond

FireFirefighters from perhaps 20 departments in Nebraska and Kansas battled a major fire at the Livingston Enterprise State Line Hog Facility, south of Fairbury in Jefferson County.

The blaze broke out Sunday night and was contained early this  morning. Fairbury Rural Fire Chief Kenny Krause says upwards of 200 firefighters helped fight the blaze.

“It took several hours,” Chief Krause says. “We probably agressively faught fire for a solid three to four hours.”

Upon arrival, four buildings were engulfed in flames. Krause says the embers were mostly extinguished by 2 AM. The blaze destroyed several buildings at the hog confinement operation, a major employer in Jefferson County.

“Four buildings were totally destroyed and there’s two additional buildings that had smoke damage inside of them and the livestock inside didn’t make it through that smoke,” he says. There are six remaining buildings at the site and a nearby residence which was not damaged.

Thick smoke could be seen for several miles and firefighters ran low on water, fighting the flames.

Authorities said some hogs died in the fire and smoke, but an exact number is not known. Krause says several agencies helped battle the fire and provide support, including more than two dozen fire departments, law enforcement agencies, ambulances and the Red Cross.

The cause of the fire and the estimated damage are not yet known. There were no injuries to firefighters.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice


Death investigation underway after body found below bridge

Crime Scene TapeAn investigation is underway to determine the cause of death of a 56-year-old Yutan woman, found dead underneath a bridge just off Highway 92 on the eastside of Yutan.

The Nebraska State Patrol identifies the woman as Nancy Cummins.

The patrol will work with the Saunders County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation of Cummins’ death.

“Upon initial investigation the death does not appear to be suspicious in nature,” said Nebraska State Patrol Lt. Robert Frank in a written statement released by NSP. “An autopsy will be conducted tomorrow to determine cause of death.”

The body was discovered Wednesday morning, according to the sheriff’s office.