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What Can Solve Nevada's Growing Problem Of Traffic-Related Deaths?

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(AP Photo/John Locher)

A crime scene investigator walks by a wrecked car involved in a school bus crash Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Las Vegas.

The number of traffic deaths in Nevada continues to rise.

In 2018, 331 people were killed up from 311 people the year before.

And 2019 hasn’t started out very well.

Andrew Bennett with the Nevada Department of Public Safety says the state fatality numbers reflect the population numbers, most are in Clark County, followed by Washoe County and finally the rural counties.

Bennett said most of the fatal accidents can be attributed to speed, impairment, and failure to yield the right of way.

However, efforts to address the impairment part of the problem has resulted in some changes.

"I believe when we're talking about impairment fatalities our combination of education and engineering and enforcement has started to work when it comes to impairment," he said.

Bennett said the state ran the most comprehensive impaired driving campaigns in the history of the state to educate people about impaired driving and the consequences. 

In 120 of 195 fatal crashes in Clark County in 2018, the driver at fault was impaired. 

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On the enforcement side, Las Vegas Metro Police and the Nevada Highway Patrol started the DUI Strike Team last year with the aim of reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road.

Captain Nick Farese told KNPR's State of Nevada said the team had a singular focus.

"It is a dedicated team of men and women... and their sole mission is to go out and seek out impaired drivers and arrest them and get them off of our streets," Farese said,

He said the team started in October and as of January, it had arrested 300 people for driving under the influence. The department is still using DUI checkpoints but the strike team is more of a saturation patrol where whole sections of the city are targeted instead of one spot.

And as far as engineering, Tina Quigley with the Regional Transportation Committee says her agency is always looking for ways to make streets safer.

Quigley said the RTC holds quarterly focus groups with drivers and pedestrians to talk about problem areas that need to be addressed. 

She said one of the biggest problems is that Nevada's streets were built with the safety of drivers in mind and not the safety of all modes of transportation.

"It is a complete shift," she said.

Now, the RTC and other agencies have to work to unwind 50 years of road design to make streets safer.

An example of that effort is Boulder Highway. The highway on the valley's eastern side has long been a problem but the RTC is working with the University of Nevada, Reno to deploy LiDar, which is similar to radar but it uses lasers for mapping, to better monitor the roadway and find ways to make it safer.

"It is going to be able to understand everything that is going on at this intersection and point out to us where we've had near misses," she said, "We always know where fatalities are but we don't know where near misses are occurring and it captures this data... it is telling us what time of day and where are we seeing pedestrians cross - not in crosswalks- and where are we seeing those near misses."

Quigley said even something as minor as a new sign or better road markers could help save a life.

Another part of changes to roadways that could be coming is automatic traffic enforcement like red light cameras.

Bennett said his department is purposing a bill in the State Senate this legislative session to remove the prohibition on automatic traffic enforcement. 

He said other states have systems in place and decades of research show they work. Plus, an automatic system will help compensate for the state's population growth.

"We have more folks on the roads than ever before and we don't have the resources to put a cop at every corner, on every street and everyone should be held accountable," he said.

However, with those changes and efforts, it often comes down to individual drivers and pedestrians taking more caution, Captain Farese said.

"We just need to be better drivers in our community. It's a state problem. It's not unique to Clark County," he said, "If we could just reduce those minor property damage only collisions, it would free up the officers to do so much more enforcement of the red light runners and people cutting people off in traffic." 

(Editor's note: This discussion originally aired January 2019)

Guests

Andrew Bennett, Nevada Department of Public Safety; Tina Quigley, general manager, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada; Captain Nick Farese, commander of the traffic bureau, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.

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