What's the solution to making roads in Las Vegas safer?
From the killing of a bicyclist to pedestrian and child deaths, it’s been a deadly year on our roads. The number of traffic fatalities this year is almost the same as a year ago, and last year was one of the deadliest on record.
It’s true: you can’t create laws that change human behavior: If someone is hellbent on being a dangerous driver, there’s little you can do about it. But there has to be a solution, doesn’t there?
If its cameras at stoplights that can ticket drivers who run red lights, will our state lawmakers ever approve them? Do we need more traffic cops? Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's Sheriff Kevin McMahill said police take more complaints about traffic than anything else.
Clark County's Andrew Bennett, UNLV's Erin Breen and LVMPD Traffic Bureau Lt. Bret Ficklin talked with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann about the issues and what can be done to make our roads safer.
Over the weekend, seven people died on roads in Clark County. Weeks ago, a retired police chief from California died after he was allegedly targeted by teenagers who hit him with their car.
Breen, at the UNLV Transportation Research Center's Traffic Safety Coalition, also compiled numbers of students who have been victims going to and from school over five weeks of the fall semester. Five elementary kids were hit; nine middle schoolers were hit and four of those were hitting runs; and eight high schoolers were hit with three of those being hit-and-runs.
"So what we see in school zones is most often the children are where they're supposed to be, and it's the adults not paying attention that are hitting them in crosswalks," she said. "Hit-and-run is big in our community."
She added that people involved in a hit-and-run, if caught, can face stiff sentences, whereas courts are much more lenient if someone stops to help the victim.
Nevada requires a driver's education course and 50 hours of monitored driving —with a parent or trained professional— behind the wheel, with 10 of those at nighttime.
CAMERAS AT STOPLIGHTS
Bennett noted that for the last two legislative sessions, there's been a push for state lawmakers to approve a trial of cameras in school zones that would be able to take photos of law breakers and potentially fine them. He also said there is very little political support for that idea.
"I have the opportunity to chair the state committee, the Nevada Advisory Committee for traffic safety, and it was a goal, that was actually our number one policy priority: to implement automated traffic enforcement (but) we failed to even receive a hearing, which is the first step in getting schools on or to get the cameras which were intended to go in school zones," he said. "Just the other week, we had the Nevada Traffic Safety Summit, where we had legislators from both parties, a lot of personal opinions are in play with, you know, how they feel about them. And I think that's up to this traffic safety community to do a better job of showing the facts showing the data and showing that at the end of the day, it will save lives on our roadways."
MORE TRAFFIC COPS?
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has 10 area commands. They employ about 130 traffic cops. A few others specialize in fatal crashes and hit-and-runs. Metro's budget from 2009 shows the department had 175 commissioned officers in 2009. But Clark County has about 300,000 more people today. The numbers of people increased, but the number of traffic cops went down.
"We're also responsible for responding to any wreck that happens in the Metro jurisdiction," he said. "It's investigated by a motor officer. And so with the amount of wrecks that we have in the (Las Vegas) valley, that takes a motor officer, takes them away from being able to do an enforcement because anytime there's a wreck, a motor cop, a motor officer has to respond to investigate."
Ficklin, who's been in the Traffic Bureau six years, added that he's always surprised at what drivers will do, even when he's right there in front of him.
"And if they're willing to do that in front of a police officer that's clearly marked as a police officer ... how much more prevalent will that activity be when I'm not there?
"And so you have to become that defensive driver. You have to be aware of what's going on around you because you don't know what the person next to you is going to be doing. You don't know their mindset. You don't know if they're under the influence. And so you have to be careful."
Guests: Andrew Bennett, director, Clark County Office of Traffic Safety; Erin Breen, director, Road Equity Alliance and coordinator, UNLV Transportation Research Center's Traffic Safety Coalition; Bret Ficklin, lieutenant, LVMPD Traffic Bureau