Drivers, texters puzzle police

It’s a mystery that for months has baffled Southern Nevada law enforcement. Officers are at such a loss, they hope community leaders and large employers will help them crack it.

The case, in a nutshell, involves the mentality of Las Vegans on our roads.

For example, last month Las Vegas police officers camped out at Tropicana Avenue and Rainbow Boulevard for a couple hours in the afternoon. Of the 120 motorists pulled over, 90 were cited for talking or texting on their cellphones without a hands-free device.

Here’s another: Even though it seems a pedestrian is killed every week, motorists continue to blow through crosswalks and those walking continue to step off a midblock curb on a dark street right in front of a vehicle.

"It’s amazing to us. It’s kind of crazy," Lt. Rich Fletcher said.

Officers have been aggressive with enforcement, sending officers with wacky costumes across crosswalks and stationing motorcycle cops on short stretches of roadways to look for drivers illegally yapping on their phones. Tickets are issued, but their efforts hardly appear to be a deterrent.

Fletcher is organizing a community symposium for mid-July and is seeking participation from businesses owners and others who might offer some suggestions on how to change the mindset of the valley’s drivers and pedestrians.

"The key issues will be how can we, as a community, positively change the driving culture in the community," Fletcher said. "We hope the final result will be to give participants enough information to share with their families, employees and friends on how to stay safe while driving. Also, we want to create long-term solutions."

The gathering will be invite only, but those interested in taking part can let Fletcher know via email, R4511F@LVMPD.com. The date and location of the event has yet to be determined.

One can’t help but wonder whether it’s feasible to change the behavior of Las Vegas drivers.

Fletcher and I bounced around some theories about why people drive so fast or are inconsiderate toward others.

"A car is an extension of us; that is why we buy a certain vehicle," Fletcher said.

So, owners of a Ford Fiesta might be quiet and unassuming, while the person behind the wheel of a Hummer could be brash and aggressive.

Maybe motorists are self-absorbed. Some refuse to allow a car to merge in front of them. Is that an ego thing or is the driver seriously concerned about falling a car length behind?

"If everyone knew how to merge, traffic would go pretty smoothly, but there is always that one guy who ruins it for everybody," Fletcher said. "What good is it to get there first if you end up in a wreck?"

When he pulls someone over for speeding, the excuse is often similar.

"They’ll say, ‘I have to be somewhere,’  " Fletcher said. "This is what they don’t understand. The 100 people they just passed, they put them in danger. We all live here together. We are a community. We need to look out for each other.

"If everyone does the speed limit, you actually get to where you are going faster," he said. "There are also people going way below the speed limit. That’s just as dangerous."

The most popular cellphone excuse? It was an important call.

Fletcher pondered why driving safely isn’t preached in homes the same way as not talking to strangers or staying away from drugs. Maybe some parents believe it’s common sense not to drive like a maniac or maybe the parents aren’t the best drivers either.

"I just wish I could capture the emotion of a mother being told her son is laying in the roadway dead. The wails, nobody can duplicate that; to convey that to the public would almost be impossible. Once they heard that, I guarantee you, they’d think about it."

Law enforcement departments have tried public announcements and putting together joint task force efforts to focus on specific violations whether it be speeding, cellphone use or crosswalk laws. Nothing seems to be working.

"For the last five years, we were on a downward trend," Fletcher said, nothing that there were 170 traffic-related fatalities five years ago. "This year, everything is turning up."

Every company has rules and some larger businesses make traffic safety a priority, slapping sanctions on employees who are caught speeding or driving recklessly. Fletcher applauded those employers, but said penalties aren’t necessarily the only answer.

He is hoping the gathering of a variety of community members can brainstorm and come up with a solution to change the thinking of both drivers and pedestrians.

"We want community leaders, business leaders, first responders and people from all over Southern Nevada to come together and ask, ‘What can we do differently to get the message across that we want this community to be safe?’ " Fletcher said.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior @reviewjournal.com. Include your phone number.

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