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Traffic Deaths Nearing Another Record, But Why?

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

Just under 30 people a month are dying in traffic accidents in Nevada. 

By October 31, 286 people had died in traffic-related incidents. If that rate holds until the end of the year, Nevada will have seen a record number of people die in traffic. Those numbers include pedestrians, motorcyclist and drivers. 

The question is why are the numbers so high in a state with about 3 million people?

Erin Breen has been working on the problem of traffic safety for more than 20 years. She is the Coordinator of the Traffic Safety Coalition at UNLV.

Her latest effort is the Vulnerable Road User’s Project. The project focuses on motorcyclists and pedestrians because they are only about 5 percent of the overall traffic, but they account for 60 percent fatalities.

“If you look at who uses the road versus who dies on the road,” she said, “Road use is 95 percent motor vehicles. Fatalities do not reflect any equality.”

Breen said we need to do a better job of considering all the users of the road not just the drivers.

One of the ways that is being done is through Vision Zero. It is a program that started in Sweden, which focuses on ways to change the design of roads to make them safer.

“It’s a different way of looking at how we mitigate crashes and understanding that human behavior is never going to change and so we need to change how we develop our streets,” she said.

Breen said the program was instituted in Europe 20 years ago and cities there have seen a 90 percent drop in fatalities.

It is part of the zero-fatality goal that agencies across the state are aiming for. Breen admits that the goal seems lofty, but she says if it is your loved one who is hurt or killed there really is no other goal.

Deputy Chief Andy Walsh with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police agreed.

Walsh has responded to several fatal crashes during his years on the force. He says each one of them are heartbreaking and each one could be prevented.

“Each one of these is preventable, which is why the goal of zero even though it is a very lofty, visionary approach to it, it really should be because the family members and the people who have to live with aftermath of that they don’t get to bury a whole person sometimes and that’s just tragic they have to see that,” he said.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is tasked with making sure people can get around Southern Nevada quickly and safely.

But Carl Scarbrough, who is with the agency, admits good transportation design can’t trump driver behavior all the time.

However, the RTC is always looking for ways to make the roads safer. After a series of deadly crashes at bus stops, the agency worked to moved back about 900 bus shelters around Southern Nevada.

They are now working to move another 80 but there are some bus stops they cannot move because of issues of easement and who owns the land.

Traffic lights are another item on the road that seem to cause conflicts between pedestrians and drivers. Scarbrough said that the FAST System, or Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation, keeps an eye on traffic lights around the valley and tries to keep things moving.

“The challenge for an intersection is that someone has to get the red at some point,” he said, “It is about the total volume of moving traffic and keeping all of the intersections moving.”

When a driver feels he’s been sitting at a light for a long time or he doesn’t want to sit at a light, he will often speed up to avoid waiting.

Breen said that problem goes to the main way we could all save lives on the road: Be kinder and more patient when we drive, ride a motorcycle or bicycle or walk.

Plus, everyone could brush up on the rules of the road.

For example, pedestrians have the right of way, bicyclists must be given the whole lane – if it is possible to move to the left drivers must do it, cars must share the road with motorcycles, but motorcyclist are not allowed to weave through traffic and lane splitting is illegal in Nevada.

This weekend, Breen’s group will hold a remembrance vigil at Las Vegas City Hall for all those who have died in traffic crashes this year.

Event to Honor Crash Victims, Call to Action for Others

Sunday, November 18, 4:30 PM

Steps of Las Vegas City Hall

Deputy Chief Andy Walsh, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department;  Erin Breen, UNLV; Carl Scarbrough, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.