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Motorists turning left see fewer yellow flashes in Las Vegas

Updated February 19, 2024 - 11:28 am

Clark County officials are limiting left turns at flashing yellow lights at select intersections under their jurisdiction in Southern Nevada.

The initiative kicked off last year following discussions among the Clark County Office of Traffic Safety, public works and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada’s FAST division.

The flashing yellow lights for left turns are being suppressed during peak hours at all intersections in the county with a speed limit of 45 mph or higher and three lanes, said Andrew Bennett, director of the county office of traffic safety.

The office doesn’t yet have data tied to how many, if any, crashes at such intersections have been reduced.

“That’s going to take time to understand the impact, but right-of-way fatalities in general at intersections are down,” Bennett said.

‘Not necessarily getting rid of them’

The unprotected left-hand turn can prove dangerous when oncoming traffic blocks the view of traffic motorists are turning into, especially during peak hour traffic. This is particularly concerning regarding motorcyclists and crashes related to vehicles turning left on flashing yellow lights, Bennett said.

“It’s not necessarily getting rid of them; it’s making sure that we have them in the appropriate use,” Bennett said. “Failing to yield the right of way is one of, if not the, leading causes of crashes that we’re having.”

Thus far there hasn’t been much negative feedback from motorists tied to missing the flashing yellow lights during peak hours in Clark County, according to Bennett.

“Because people enjoy having the protected green turn,” Bennett said. “We also understand that if you take away that flashing yellow light when nobody is around, that also might lead to some consequences that we don’t want either, like folks running red lights.”

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who helped create the county’s traffic safety office, said limiting flashing yellow lights also can help increase pedestrian safety at intersections.

“Your (motorists) focus is on oncoming traffic and that’s appropriate,” Naft said. “I dare anyone to try it and be cognizant of what you’re doing when you take that left. It is highly unlikely that your main focus is on the potential of a pedestrian happening to be crossing there. The pedestrian feels like they have the right of way, which they do, and so it also comes down to being little more conscientious when using those intersections.”

The county traffic safety office is putting more focus this year on ways to further improve pedestrian safety in Southern Nevada, Bennett said.

“When you look at the numbers we had last year, we’re sitting at 82 pedestrian fatalities in Clark County,” Bennett said. “For me that has to be the top priority this year. We disproportionately kill pedestrians in Southern Nevada compared to the rest of the state.”

The county will work with law enforcement and traffic safety partners to see how pedestrian safety can be improved via a mix of education, engineering and enforcement around the subject, Bennett said. One focus will be on the top 10 areas where pedestrian-involved wrecks occur in the Las Vegas Valley.

‘This is a long game’

A positive early outcome with the traffic safety office has been the formation of partnerships with other agencies. The office of traffic safety revealed a gap in partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, and closing that gap and creating new partnerships has been an early success for the department, according to Naft.

“That’s been an important step, but this is a long game,” Naft said. “Unfortunately, we like to see instant results and instant gratification, but a lot of this is about laying the groundwork for the work ahead.”

The office has worked to pass new ordinances related to traffic safety that deal with mobile billboard usage, delivery robots near UNLV, street takeovers and illegal racing.

The traffic safety office also has played a role in the passage of state legislation that allows law enforcement to issue a ticket and tow the vehicle of a person charged with reckless driving.

“When we do identify an issue, which we did with Flamingo (Road), not only bringing it up with NDOT (Nevada Department of Transportation), but also making sure they understand that Clark County is going to be there with them along the way,” Bennett said. “It’s not just creating the conversation, but it’s also us following through, to make sure they understand they have the support and pressure from this building to make streets safer.”

Regional focus

The stretch of Flamingo between Paradise and Pecos roads was selected after a high number of fatal and serious crashes occurred in recent years. NDOT is hosting a virtual public meeting regarding the stretch through Feb. 29.

Naft said it has been important to him to focus on the region, and not just Clark County’s jurisdiction, when creating the office, because many of the effects of serious and fatal crashes affect the county one way or another.

“So much of what the county does regionally has an impact on traffic safety and sadly the other way around,” Naft said. “We own UMC trauma, where you go when you’re in a crash. We operate the Clark County coroner’s office. … social services and human services that have a role, particularly when you’re talking about vulnerable road users. This really is a regional responsibility. The general public doesn’t really care what side of the road that happens on, they just care about outcomes.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on X. Send questions and comments to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com.

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