Driving in Nebraska
Nebraska license plates are no longer emblazoned with the state's official nickname – the Cornhusker State – but it's impossible to drive across its expansive plains without getting a reminder of the importance of that crop.
"What Nebraska lacks in mountains, it makes up for in wavy green corn fields that create moving lines as you stare out the passenger window," says Nebraska native Mikah Meyer, a road trip expert who's aiming to set a world record with a three-year journey to all 417 national parks.
But there's a lot more to the state than highways flanked by fields of corn. "To best experience Nebraska, you need to exit the Interstate," says Tim Trudell, who lives in Omaha and runs a travel blog. The northwestern part of the state, the panhandle, offers an array of sights and stunning rock formations such as Chimney Rock and Courthouse and Jailhouse Rocks, he says. Consider driving Nebraska's Highway 2, deemed one of the most scenic roads in the country, to the Sandhills. Designated as a National Natural Landmark, the Sandhills is an area named for its breathtaking sand dunes. "The Sandhills provide a panoramic beauty unexpected in a 'prairie state,'" Meyer says.
However, the flatness of most of the state makes it a far more relaxed and less challenging place to drive than some mountainous states. Another advantage: you can get great gas mileage.
"When driving in Nebraska, you can set the cruise control on the flat road and coast," Meyer says.
Nebraska Auto Insurance Regulations
Like almost all other states, Nebraska imposes minimum auto insurance requirements on drivers. All drivers of vehicles registered in Nebraska must carry liability insurance in the following minimum amounts:
- $25,000 per person for bodily injury
- $50,000 per accident for bodily injury in a crash where more than one person gets hurt
- $25,000 for property damage
Nebraska has one of the lowest percentages of uninsured motorists in the country at just 6.8 percent. However, Nebraska also requires all auto insurance policies in the state to include the following minimum UM/UIM insurance coverage to protect drivers and passengers from uninsured and underinsured motorists:
- $25,000 in UM/UIM coverage per person
- $50,000 in UM/UIM coverage per accident in which more than one person is injured
In addition, Nebraska state law requires insurers to provide UM/UIM coverage of up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident when a customer requests higher coverage amounts in writing.
Drivers who get pulled over must be able to show proof of financial responsibility for all vehicles registered in Nebraska, with some exceptions, such as boats, campers, snowmobiles and dealer-plated vehicles.
The state of Nebraska accepts a variety of documents as proof of financial responsibility. These include: a certificate of deposit, a certificate of insurance, a bond, a property bond or a certificate of self-insurance.
Cornhusker Car Culture
"The typical Nebraska car is affordable and functional," Meyer says. "Car culture I'd describe as Midwestern practicality," he says. Case in point: his first car had to be unlocked from the passenger door because the driver's side was broken and a friend of his had a ride so covered in hail damage it looked like a golf ball. "But they got us safely from A to B," he says.
At the same time, Nebraska drivers don't shy away from big, shiny vehicles with plenty of hauling and towing capacity. A survey of popular cars in each state found that in the Cornhusker State, the Chevrolet Suburban SUV sells at 260 percent of the national average rate. And the Chevy Silverado and Ram 1500 pick-up trucks sell in that state at double the national average rate.
"No matter what they're driving, Nebraskans know they need to take a cue from the Boy Scouts and always be prepared. Because towns are far apart, Cornhuskers know to gas up their vehicles when they get the chance and always carry extra food," Trudell says. And they know cell phone service can be nonexistent in some areas off the main highways. "A paper map is a great idea."
Urban vs. Rural Roads
It's typically safer to drive on urban roads than rural ones. While only about 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, more than half of the fatal crashes in the United States take place in the country.
But Nebraska is one of a number of states in which the urban-rural fatality divide is even wider. In this state, an alarming 70 percent of all road deaths occur on rural roads, while just 30 percent happen in urban areas.
Deteriorating road conditions may play a role, and it's not just rural roads that are in bad shape. In fact, 59 percent of the major roads in Nebraska are in poor or mediocre condition according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Seat belt use also factors in, and rural drivers and passengers are less likely to wear seat belts and more likely to die in crashes. Although 35 states have primary seat belt use laws, meaning police can pull over a driver specifically for not wearing a seat belt, Nebraska lacks such a law. In fact, the most recent available Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state seat belt statistics show that only about 79 percent of drivers and front seat passengers in Nebraska wear seat belts while the national average is over 90 percent.
Miles Driven in Nebraska
Generally, the more miles driven in a state, the higher the chance of vehicle accidents on its roads.
In Nebraska, drivers are putting slightly fewer miles on their cars than they did a few years back. The average annual vehicle miles traveled per capita in that state was 10,389 in 2012, compared with 10,900 in 2007.
However, the rate of fatal crashes in Nebraska was 1.22 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2015, higher than the U.S. average of 1.13. The rate varies widely across the country, from a low of .52 in Massachusetts to a high of 1.89 in South Carolina. However, fatalities would surely decrease in Nebraska if more drivers and passengers buckled up after getting in the car.
Cornhusker State Gas Prices
Gas prices drive behavior – and the less it costs to fill up the tank, the more likely it is that motorists will get behind the wheel. More driving increases the risk of getting into a crash, so the price of gas can actually influence driving safety in a state.
The average price of gas in Nebraska in late November 2017 was $2.59 per gallon, just a bit higher than the average U.S. gas price of $2.53 per gallon.
While gas prices in Nebraska may be the envy of those on the West Coast, they're higher than the ultra low prices enjoyed by drivers in the Southeast. Cornhuskers who want to stretch their paychecks further should try these gas saving tips. As a bonus, little actions that save money, like rolling up car windows on the highway, also help keep you and your passengers safe.
A booming economy tends to spur drivers to put more miles on their vehicles, both for business and pleasure. A lower unemployment rate can mean more cars on the roads, which affects vehicle safety in the state.
The Nebraska unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in October 2017, significantly lower than the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.1 percent that month.
To help mitigate the risks of the increased driving that happens when work is plentiful, Nebraska drivers – whether heading to a job or taking a much-needed vacation – should buckle up and stay focused on the road.
Efforts to Remediate Distracted Driving
Evidence clearly shows that distracted driving causes crashes, and many states are passing laws to try to put the brakes on this serious problem.
Nebraska is one of 47 states that bans texting while driving. The Nebraska texting law states that drivers are prohibited from using a device to read, type or send a written communication while behind the wheel.
Drivers who get caught texting can face a stiff fine of $200 to $500 and get three points on their license.
While most drivers in Nebraska are permitted to talk on handheld cell phones while they drive, teen drivers are not. A driver who holds any type of Nebraska learner's permit, or a provisional operator's permit – the next step after a permit but one step below a full license – may not use any type wireless communication device while driving. This ban includes cell phones, personal digital assistants that send and receive messages and laptop computers.
Teen Driving Regulations
Most states require teens to jump through hoops and follow special rules on the way to a full driver license, and the Cornhusker State is no exception.
The state of Nebraska offers graduated driver licensing that allows some flexibility for teens and their parents to determine the best path to eventually earning an unrestricted license.
In fact, Nebraska actually has three options for teens just starting out as drivers:
- Learner's Permit (LPD) – At age 15, a teen can get a learner's permit if they pass a written and vision test. The learner's permit is valid for one year and can be renewed. Learner's permit holders may drive only with a licensed driver at least 21 years old.
- School Learner's Permit (LPE) – A teen of 14 or 15 may get a school learner's permit, in order to prepare to get a school permit, if they pass a written and vision test. The school learner's permit is valid for three months and can be renewed. School learner's permit holders may drive only with a licensed driver at least 21 years old.
- School Permit (SCP) – After holding an LPE for at least two months, a teen of at least 14 years and two months old may get a school permit if they pass a behind-the-wheel driving test and show proof of either a driver education class or completion of 50 hours of driving practice. The school permit is valid until three months after the permit holder turns 16. A school permit holder may drive unaccompanied to and from school, using the most direct route. Otherwise they must be accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older.
After holding one of the above permits for at least six months, a teen of at least 16 may apply for a Provisional Operator's Permit (POP). To get a POP, the teen must have taken a driver's education class, completed 50 hours of documented driving practice or have held a school permit. With a POP, the teen may drive unsupervised but must follow these rules:
- No driving between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. except to and from school or work or if accompanied by a licensed driver at least 21 years old.
- Only carry a maximum of one non-family-member passenger under age 19 for the first six months.
- At age 17, after holding a POP for at least one year, a teen may apply for an unrestricted driver's license. To qualify, they must not have accumulated three or more points on their license for traffic violations in the previous year. One example of the Nebraska points system: a driver caught speeding between 10 and 35 mph over the speed limit will get three points.
Because it's so important for parents to teach, supervise and monitor teen driving, Nebraska offers advice and tips through its Parent's Supervised Driving Program. One tip from the state: while your teen practices driving, avoid conversations on topics like dating, grades and sports so both of you can stay focused on the road.
The State of Driving in Nebraska
Driving across Nebraska is an exercise in transition, says Augustin Kennady, who recently drove through the state as part of a cross-country trip. Because he had always heard about the state's legendary flatness, he was surprised to encounter a varied landscape with plenty of charm.
While the eastern part of the state mirrors the farmlands of the East Coast, the western section has all the features of the frontier. "That's what makes driving through Nebraska so fascinating," he says. "You get to experience the transition from one side of America to the next, and it all happens in one amazing state."