EDITORIAL: More laws won’t address real issue behind increased traffic fatalities


A new report chides Nevada for its highway safety laws, but a look at the group’s very own analysis shows that drivers — not a dearth of laws — are responsible for a recent uptick in traffic-related accidents, injuries and deaths.

According to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a self-described “alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer,” Nevada is among the worst states in the nation when it comes to adopting the alliance’s optimal number of seat belt and other highway safety laws.

The alliance is attempting to highlight the fact that traffic deaths have increased across the country over the past two years — 2015 saw the largest percentage jump in the number of those killed in motor vehicle crashes in the past 50 years. And preliminary information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 8 percent more people died on America’s highways during the first nine months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.

Nevada fatalities have also risen slightly.

“Too many states are still lacking too many safety laws and this is contributing to the problem,” the group’s president writes. “Advocates urges governors and state lawmakers to remember that state laws will save lives and spare families the loss of loved ones.”

No one should doubt the sincerity behind such an impassioned plea. But the unfortunate increase in traffic deaths has little to do with primary seat belt laws or speed limits. Instead, think cell phones and other electronic devices.

In fact, the alliance’s own report cites NHTSA data outlining how nearly 10 percent of fatal crashes and 15 percent of injury crashes in 2015 were caused by drivers distracted by electronic devices. The analysis also points out that the numbers could be far higher given under-reporting due to police crash report coding, among other challenges.

Advocates lists Nevada as one of 41 states that already has “optimal all-driver text messaging restriction” laws on the books. Perhaps the group should be focusing more on urging stricter enforcement of existing laws and on the educational component of its mission. The report contains a significant amount of compelling information about the dangers of distracted driving:

— According to the NHTSA, 10 percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group contains the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.

— Sending or receiving a single text message causes a driver’s eyes to be off the road for roughly 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, this is the equivalent of a football field.

— At any moment of daylight of 2015, nearly 542,000 drivers in the United States were operating hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel.

— According to NHTSA, the percentage of drivers who could be seen operating hand-held devices while behind the wheel jumped by 267 percent between 2009 and 2015.

It’s simple: The problem here isn’t a lack of laws. The problem is the failure of too many drivers to use common sense behind the wheel.