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It’s no accident Las Vegans have plenty of crashes

I don’t have the final numbers in hand, but I’m sure there were no car accidents in Las Vegas last night.

Or last week.

In fact, the roads have been pretty much accident-free all year.

No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses.

To many local safety experts, accidents happen for no reason at all. Crashes, on the other hand, happen because somebody messed up.

And boy, do we have a lot of crashes in these parts.

“We believe all accidents are actually crashes,” Sgt. Tracy McDonald, who heads the fatal accident — er, I mean crash — investigation detail for Las Vegas police, told me last week. “A very high percentage of accidents can be prevented.”

Like, virtually all of ’em.

“When we go to these accidents, it’s probably 99 percent of the time that particular crash could have been prevented,” he said. “When we get to the scene and investigate, almost inevitably we’ll find something on the part of one or both drivers: not being prepared to stop, not checking the mirrors.”

You know, Driving 101.

“It’s basic driving,” McDonald said. “Obeying signals and signs and stripes on the roadway; not driving impaired or not driving recklessly.

“If we could cut down on distractions in vehicles, obey traffic laws, drive defensively, wear seat belts, we wouldn’t have fatalities on our streets,” he said.

McDonald isn’t alone in his semantics.

Across the country, many safety experts and law enforcement officers are getting out of the habit of calling wrecks “accidents” and using “crashes” instead, in hopes of emphasizing that driver behavior, whether reckless, negligent or simply inattentive, is by far the most frequent cause of traffic mayhem in this country.

Indeed, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study last year found that roughly four of every five car wrecks involved driver inattention within three seconds of the incident.

I asked McDonald if he could recall one recent fatal crash that truly was an accident, where all drivers involved did everything right and death still ensued. He couldn’t think of any examples.

But fresh in his mind was yet another crash that was no accident. Last week, “we had a person failing to yield the right-of-way leaving a driveway of a gas station. That resulted in a fatal,” McDonald said.

“Had he looked left and right, the accident could have easily been prevented,” McDonald said.

Many drivers have their minds, and eyes, on everything but the road.

“We have text-messaging, cell phones, video screens, stereos, pets, the kids” in the car, McDonald said. “People (while driving) just aren’t looking ahead. They’re not scanning” the streets.

On top of that, our roads aren’t exactly forgiving. Never-ending road work, an unending stream of newbies with cars, and the resulting constant changes in traffic patterns see to that.

“Living in Las Vegas or Clark County, (with) the amount of congestion, the growth, the ever-changing traffic lanes, they (commuters) have to be even more aware than if they were living in a city that’s not growing,” McDonald said.

“You really have to be alert and aware when driving our roadways,” he said.

The valley’s crash stats would look even worse if most drivers weren’t responsible and did the right things most the time. “Think about how many drivers are out there where accidents don’t happen,” he said.

Still, that leaves plenty of distracted drivers, risk-takers, blind lane-changers, drag racers, tailgaters and speeders — a group McDonald calls the “noncompliant” drivers — to blanket our byways with carnage.

That group of hard-core rebels simply won’t consider the evidence and change their ways.

“I just don’t know how you could get that message across,” McDonald said.

Who ever thought a lack of accidents would be a bad thing?

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the City Desk at 383-0264, or send an e-mail to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.

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