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Traffic Fatalities Decrease in 2019, But Are The Roads Getting Safer?


(AP Photo/John Locher)

Officials investigate a crash involving a school bus Thursday, May 25, 2017, in Las Vegas. Authorities say several people are injured, including middle school students, a bus driver and a woman and an infant in a vehicle that collided with a school bus on a two-lane stretch of road in southeast Las Vegas.

Traffic deaths have been a big concern in Nevada, especially in Clark County. 2018 saw a huge uptick in driver fatalities. 

So how did 2019 fare? Surprisingly, fatal accidents on Nevada roadways went down. 

A new report by the Nevada Department of Public Safety found the number of fatalities dropped from 329 in 2018 to 284 in 2019. It works out to an almost 14 percent drop.

Andrew Bennett is the public information officer for the department. He credits the drop to a concerted effort by several agencies to get the number of fatalities down.

One of the key parts of that effort was in the enforcement of drunk driving laws.

“We absolutely believe that when we remove the threat of an impaired driver off of our roadways, that saves the life of everybody – a pedestrian, a cyclist, another motorist,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the DUI Strike Team of eight officers removed 1,200 drunk drivers from the road in 2019. He said a majority - about 53 percent - of traffic fatalities are connected to impairment, whether that's alcohol, medications or marijuana. 

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In addition to more enforcement, Bennett said partnerships with ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have helped keep impaired drivers off the road.

They are doing it again this weekend for the Super Bowl. 

"We're offering $2 off two rides this weekend to encourage people to not get behind the wheel impaired," he said.

Besides getting impaired drivers off the road, the department encouraged people to buckle up with their 'Give a Click' campaign.

The report shows the number of traffic deaths because people were not wearing a seatbelt dropped 40 percent. Bennett said the department was extremely encouraged by that drop.

"We do believe that if we can get people to care, we can implement good policy," he said, "And I think that if anything we did in 2019, it was get people to care, and we created the conversation."

While addressing human behavior on the roadway is vital to bringing down the number of fatal crashes, there is a lot more that can be done to make the actual roads safer.

That is one of the goals of Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft. He points out that as the county continues its fast growth, getting roads ready for increased traffic is a challenge.

In addition, in Southern Nevada, development of homes and businesses pays for the development of roads, which is why they will go from three lanes to one and then back to two lanes in the space of a few miles.

"The development that is coming through helps some of that," he said, "It's our job to make sure that when a developer is coming in that they're improving not just the road right in front of their parcel, but also if they can be doing a little bit more -- that's what I want to make sure they're doing."

Naft supports charging larger fees to developers to pay for better roads.

He is also heading up a traffic safety commission that will hold its first meeting in March. Naft wants the commission to bring actual solutions to road safety that can be put into a bill draft for the Nevada Legislature.

"These are man-made problems. We have to find man-made solutions. What I mean by that is looking at the way we develop our infrastructure," he said, "Southern Nevada has some of the longest, fastest, widest roads out there. We need to be paying closer attention to that."

One of the people paying attention to that is Carl Scarbrough. He's the director of transit amenities and technical equipment at the Regional Transportation Commission.

He said implementing smart road technology, which is known as Complete Streets, on new roads and roads that are being redeveloped can make a big difference.

"The typical 100-foot wide roadway in Las Vegas, 90 percent of it is reserved for motor vehicles," he said, "Pedestrians, bicyclists, they get to share what's left. Complete Streets is they provide space for all activities because it's not just cars on the roads."

Besides designated space for other road users, Complete Streets uses features like landscaped medians and shoulders, along with wider sidewalks that are detached from the roadway to slow down traffic.   

"It's taking that environment and making it safer for everybody," he said.

Improved design, better enforcement and stronger education programs can all help traffic safety, but the big change will come when people decide to change their behavior while using the roadways, said Erin Breen, the coordinator of UNLV Traffic Safety Coaltion.

Breen has been working on road safety in Southern Nevada for a number of years. She said something as simple as better personal planning will make a difference.

"Not giving yourself enough time to get where you're going is not planning well, [and] is the biggest problem that we have," she said, "Do we have what I would call selfish drivers? Yes ... Ask yourself, 'How often am I that driver?' And we all can do better. That's what it comes down to."


Andrew Bennett, public information officer, Department of Public Safety; Michael Naft, commissioner, Clark County Commission; Carl Scarbrough, director of transit amenities and technical equipment, Regional Transportation Commission; Erin Breen, coordinator, UNLV Traffic Safety Coalition

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