While traffic fatalities declined slightly in Southern Nevada in 2014, deaths rose by nearly 7 percent in the state.
Data released this week showed that 284 traffic fatalities occurred on Nevada roads in 2014, an increase of 18 deaths over 2013. Nevada traffic deaths, which reached an all-time high of 432 in 2006 before starting to decline, are climbing again.
The number of bicyclists who died on Nevada roadways remained the same in 2013 and 2014, but the number of motorcyclists and pedestrians killed rose slightly from one year to the next by 1.85 percent and 1.45 percent respectively.
And if you consider each county separately, many of Nevada’s rural counties had more drastic increases than the state’s two largest urban counties, Clark and Washoe.
Churchill and Lander counties’ traffic fatalities grew by 300 percent from the year before, from one and zero deaths in 2013 to four and three, respectively. Early figures on traffic deaths caused by alcohol jumped by 700 percent in Elko County, from one to eight.
“These are so much more than numbers. Every death and serious injury on Nevada roads is a tragedy,” Nevada Department of Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon said.
The single-digit deaths in rural counties pale in comparison to the 170 traffic-related fatalities in Clark County in 2014, which declined from 190 in 2013. But the impact such deaths have on rural counties is great.
“In smaller towns, everyone knows everyone,” Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Loy Hixson said. “That’s where that loss is felt.”
“The impact, when you have a small community, is greater,” Hixson added.
That’s why the ultimate goal is zero fatalities on Nevada roads, Hixson said. On the road to zero, officials want to cut the yearly traffic fatality average in half by 2030.
Traffic and safety advocates began developing the Nevada Strategic Highway Safety Plan in 2006 to come up with strategies for enforcement, engineering, education and emergency medical services.
The highway safety plan was put together by the 15-member Nevada Committee on Traffic Safety with other public safety groups and state agencies.
The committee zoned in on five key areas with the most opportunities to prevent deaths, such as making sure drivers are sober and alert, careful at intersections and cautious around pedestrians. Seat belts are the single-most effective means of preventing deaths and reducing injuries in crashes, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation.
Committee representatives visit schools, business associations and rotary clubs to spread the word about roadway safety, Tony Illia of the Transportation Department said.
“The idea is to save lives,” Illia said. “We do a lot of outreach.”
In addition to awareness campaigns, which now reach 95 percent of the state, road safety audits have been undertaken to enhance specific roadways, and motorcycle safety was emphasized in the highway safety plan.
Illia said additional crosswalks, more highly visible stop signs and other safety enhancements throughout Clark County helped reduce crashes and fatalities.
“The department oversees 753 miles of freeways and roads in Clark County, which is about 13.7 percent of the total network,” Illia said. “However, state-maintained highways and roads account for over 52 percent of all vehicle miles traveled, including Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95 as well as several major local thoroughfares like Sahara Avenue and Charleston Boulevard.”
Infrastructure can be improved, but human errors can’t be corrected by engineering. Hixson said most of the state’s fatalities, tragically, occurred because drivers were careless.
“It’s a life and death responsibility every time you get behind the wheel,” he said.
The highway safety plan is due to be revisited at a Safety Summit in Reno in March, and updated by the end of the year.
Hixson said if he were to make a recommendation, it would be for an educational campaign targeting families rather than drivers. Safety messages should be coming from loved ones as well as from the state.
“Let’s start looking at it from a family perspective,” he said. “They want them to come home to them.”