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2021 saw big jump in traffic deaths for pedestrians, motorcyclists

Updated January 7, 2022 - 7:14 pm

Nevada saw 382 traffic fatalities in 2021, marking the deadliest year on roadways since 2006, according to preliminary government data released Friday.

The numbers represent a 18 percent year-over-year increase statewide. In Clark County, the increase was 22 percent.

In 2020, there were 324 fatalities among drivers, passengers, bicyclists and pedestrians. The highest death total noted by state records dating to 1991 is 2006, when 431 fatalities were recorded.

“It’s shocking,” newly-named Clark County Office of Traffic Safety director Andrew Bennett said. “We believe that speed and impairment will continue to be the leading causes of fatalities, and at the end of the day those two specifically are choices that people make.”

In Clark County, 235 people died last year.

Both the county and state saw an increase in deaths among pedestrians and motorcycle riders, while deaths among bicyclists fell.

Deaths among motorcycle riders rose a staggering 32 percent across the state, the most of any group. Seventy-nine died last year.

Fatalities had fallen several years, reaching a low of 304 in 2019. They’ve increased both of the past two years, according to data tracked by Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety.

“If you value life, it’s time for us to take a look at how we build our roads and what’s important to us,” said Erin Breen, director of UNLV’s Road Equity Alliance Project.

She advocated for local governments to adopt the national Safe System approach, a method that tried to reduce serious and fatal traffic collisions by designing roads to anticipate human mistakes.

One example, she said, would be creating crosswalks closer to bus stops.

Breen also pointed to Washoe County. It’s one of the few Nevada counties where traffic fatalities fell last year despite the region enjoying healthy population growth.

“They don’t have very many streets that are 45 mph, period,” she said. “And we’ve moved on to streets with 55 mph speed limits (in Clark County).”

In 2017, leaders from across the county formed the Vision Zero Truckee Meadows task force, aiming to reduce annual traffic fatalities to zero by 2030. The task force has city, county, traffic, health and emergency services officials working together under a universal plan, leader Rebecca Kapuler said.

“Before we didn’t have a unified goal. Everyone worked in silos and did their own thing,” Kapuler said.

Reno also became the first jurisdiction in Nevada last year to create a “pedestrian safety zone,” which allows officials to impose harsher punishments against people who break traffic laws in high-risk areas.

Bennett will take the helm of Clark County’s new Office of Traffic Safety this month. He believes the new office will allow the county to more deeply look at dangerous local roadways, down to the intersection level.

For now, he and Breen said every motorist can make an immediate impact by driving the speed limit, wearing their seatbelt and not getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

“It just comes down to personal responsibility,” Breen said.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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