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With 349 traffic deaths in Nevada last year, researchers work to improve road safety

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AP Photo/Eric Jamison
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Las Vegas Metro Police investigators work at the scene of a fatal crash Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Las Vegas.

Officials said 349 people died on Nevada roads in 2021 , making it the state’s worst year for traffic deaths.

This year could be worse. Last month, five people were killed on Clark County roads in less than a 24 hour period. Three more were killed the next day. In January, nine people died in a single crash.

Public safety officials and policymakers have created a database using state crash and injury data for the last decade. They’re looking for a deeper understanding of risk-taking behaviors that contribute to death and injuries on our roads.

Dr. Deborah Kuhls at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has been analyzing 20 years of traffic data.

She said they saw a nationwide increase on traffic injuries and deaths since the start of the pandemic, including in Nevada.

"There's real focus on who's driving impaired, who gets into a crash that either gets badly injured or killed, or if someone else gets injured or killed. What's happening with those and the DUIs, those deaths have also risen, and they've stayed up. And it's an alarming trend," she said.

The study looks at each piece of data available as part of a crash: how many vehicles, specifics on injuries, patient information, how long the hospital stay was, etc. 

Nearly a third of all traffic deaths occur due to speeding, according to the Nevada Department of Public Safety. Kuhls said their research has shown younger male drivers speed more than older or female drivers.

"We also see speeding happening on our local streets, it contributes to some of our intersection crashes as well in a very significant way," she said. 

Her research group publishes a quarterly newsletter targeted to policymakers and anyone interested in the public. 

In the meantime, their data is presented: "We took a look at the laws compared Nevada's laws with the laws of other states. And we've looked at an area of improvement, and we were able to actually use our data to testify to the legislative committees that pondered whether a change in legislation made sense or not," she said.

Ultimately, the research shows drivers need to slow down and pay more attention on Nevada's roads.

"Most of the people that I treat, they woke up in the morning, they had breakfast with their family, they thought it was going to be a normal day. But it wasn't for them at all," she said. "Some people won't survive the day, some people will have a minor injury that will still have a major consequence in terms of their daily lives."

Dr. Deborah Kuhls, assistant dean for research, Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.