Drivers are getting a reputation for being not so “Nebraska Nice” behind the wheel, according to local experts.
There is even a YouTube channel dedicated to the topic, called Bad Drivers of Omaha.
Last year, there were nearly 140,000 driving convictions, according to state records. A total of 13,667 convictions were for speeds of 15 to 35 miles per hour or more over the speed limit, an average of nearly 40 drivers a day.
Papillion Police Chief Scott Lyons says the behaviors are aggressive driving.
“We created the program, Drive Like a Neighbor, because we don’t feel like people are driving like neighbors right now,” Lyons said. “And you couple that with distracted driving, talking on cellphones, looking in mirrors, trying to read text messages, it makes for a very dangerous situation.”
Lyons says he’s seen reckless driving habits – like red light running, rolling through stop signs, weaving in and out of lanes and excessive speeding – happen the most during rush hour. He says the Neighbor program educates drivers.
Driving instructors are noticing an increase in bad driving, too. Pat Venditte of Cornhusker Driving School says there are many drivers who are rude when he’s working with students, like tailgating and cutting off student drivers.
“It’s a crazy world out here when it comes to driving,” Venditte said. “Driving for a lot of people today is a very stressful experience.
The number of licensed drivers in Nebraska has doubled since 1960, for a total of 1,443,072 licensees in 2016. Rose White, Public Affairs Director for AAA Nebraska, says good driving becomes imperative as more people use the road.
“If we look at the convictions last year, clearly there’s a high number of people who aren’t paying attention to the laws,” White said.
Chief Lyons says it’s his mission to increase the number of courteous drivers on the road. He says by changing their policing tactics to increase patrols around rush hour, they can help force change in driving habits.
But he says the other part is putting preventative laws on the books – namely, making distracted driving a primary offense. According to state law, when Nebraska law enforcement see a driver on their cell or smartphone, that’s not enough to pull the driver over.
“It is frustrating for law enforcement because we’re out here trying to make a difference and make a daily impact in the community and make it safer,” Lyons said.
Texting, or using a cell or smartphone, and driving is a primary offense in 46 states, but not in Nebraska.
For years, state lawmakers have debated passing distracted driving laws, but Venditte says they’ve yet to make good on their promises to constituents.
“They chose not to do it. I think that was a big mistake,” He said. It’s a deadly mistake, no question about that. No question about that.”
Venditte says if lawmakers can’t pass a bill, he might have to use unconventional methods to keep his students safe.
“Should we have a course on teaching the kids how to use the cellphone when driving?” Venditte said. “Texting is certainly out of the question, but I often wonder is that a place in the educational realm? And I can’t see it right now but stranger things have happened.”