A familiar culprit killed Midlands residents by the scores again in 2012: drunk drivers.

As of Dec. 31, Nebraska had reported more highway deaths in 2012 than the previous year, 207 people killed compared with 181. In Iowa, the fatality total was 360, the same as in 2011. Alcohol was a factor in at least 70 of those Nebraska fatalities, with authorities awaiting reports for about 50 more.

There was more good-news, bad-news in the statistics.

Traffic deaths are down significantly over the dec- ades because of greater use of seat belts and safety improvements to vehicles and highways. Iowa’s rec- ord for traffic deaths is 912, set in 1970. Nebraska’s high came the next year, with 489 deaths.

Yet only one-fourth of those who died in passenger vehicles in Nebraska last year were using seat belts. In Iowa, about half of those who were killed were using seat belts.

In Nebraska, efforts continue to increase seat-belt use and reduce drinking and driving. If those things changed, said Fred Zwonechek, Nebraska highway safety administrator, traffic fatalities would decline sharply. But sadly, he notes, “It’s not that simple, because we can’t get humans to change their behavior.”

Don’t drink and drive. Buckle up. It’s not that hard. It does save lives.

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