Las Vegas Sun

October 16, 2019

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Change of mindset’ sought in new strategy to reduce traffic deaths

Three-wheeler Crash

Metro Police via Twitter

Metro Police posted this picture on Twitter of a fatal crash involving a car and a three-wheeled vehicle on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, on Grand Canyon Drive near Gilcrease Avenue.

People are dying in Nevada from traffic fatalities at a record rate. And it needs to stop.

That was the sentiment at Thursday’s traffic safety forum hosted by Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft at the UNLV Richard Tam Alumni Center.

There were a record 331 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2018 — the highest total in a decade, said Metro Traffic Capt. Jason Letkiewicz. There have already been 108 fatalities in Nevada this year, according to the Nevada Department of Public Safety.

“This is a big problem,” Letkiewicz said. “We have to understand the depth of it.”

Most of those collisions came from Clark County with 226 recorded fatalities in 2018. Pedestrian deaths have also been up, peaking at 76 in 2017.

Naft organized the forum with local law enforcement, government leaders and community stakeholders to not only address the problem, but solve it.

Naft, who grew up traveling on Las Vegas roads, said he is “keenly aware” of the problem.

“As a Western state, we have wide roads, long roads and fast roads,” he said. “So as Nevada sees growth, it's incumbent on us to combat both vehicular and pedestrian fatalities.”

In Clark County, the most dangerous intersection is Sahara Avenue and Decatur Boulevard, according to a UNLV Center for Crime and Justice Policy study. In 2018, 54 injury crashes were recorded there.

The intersection of Rainbow and Charleston boulevards is second with 52 recorded injury crashes in 2018.

“If at the intersection there were a stabbing once a week, would you walk there? Probably not,” said William Sousa, director of the Center for Crime and Justice Policy.

Letkiewicz called the fatalities “collisions” not “accidents,” as he believes they’re all preventable.

“We can’t police our way out of our problems,” he said. “There has to be a change of mindset.”

Letkiewicz said one way to mitigate fatalities is to change traffic behavior. He urged drivers that if they see something, they should “say something” to law enforcement.

“If you let that person go, you’re letting that person continue to move and hurt someone,” he said. “We need the community to follow this and help get these people off the road.”

Another way to mitigate the traffic problem is for communities to start planning “complete street designs,” said Craig Raborn, director of metropolitan planning for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

Complete street policies require streets and roads to be specifically planned, designed, operated and maintained to ensure safe and convenient travel.

“They should serve all users effectively," he said. “Improve travel elements so someone can safely walk to the store.”

Erin Breen, a coordinator with the Traffic Safety Coalition, urged drivers to travel at a lower speed.

“If you lower the speed someone is struck at, there’s a heightened survival,” she said.

She noted that while safety is expensive, fixing the problem is actually cheaper in the long run, when put into the context of fewer traffic fatalities.

At the end of the forum, County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick along with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Mayor Debra March of Henderson and Mayor John Lee of North Las Vegas all signed a pledge to work across jurisdictions to improve traffic safety.

“We built this town for vehicles,” Kirkpatrick said. “How do we make it better? Changing the course.”