Drugs, alcohol factored into over half of fatal crashes in Clark County in 2014

Every day in Las Vegas, many make a dangerous wager.

For dozens of people each year, that gamble ends in death.

Last year in Clark County, drugs and alcohol factored into over half of all fatal traffic crashes, according to statistics from FARS, the Fatal Analysis Reporting System, a federal database about crashes.

Fifty-three percent of drivers who died in automobile crashes were under the influence, according to FARS. Similarly, 57 percent of motorcycle, moped, scooter or ATV drivers who died were under the influence. And 43 percent of pedestrians who were killed were impaired, as were three of the four bicyclists killed last year.

All five drivers ages 21 to 24 who were killed in Clark County last year were impaired, according to the data.

“It’s extremely sobering,” Scott Swain, law enforcement liaison for the state’s traffic safety office, said about the statistics.

Deaths because of motor vehicle crashes rank only behind unintended poisonings, a classification mostly made up of drug overdoses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Although some in Clark County perished under circumstances that raise questions about common sense — four people since 2005 have suffocated from autoerotic asphyxia; five who were killed because they smoked while hooked up to an oxygen tank — one traffic safety advocate says seeing people killed in drug- or alcohol -impaired crashes is the most frustrating.

“On this list of stupid ways to die, it’s the most aggravating,” said Erin Breen, director of UNLV’s Vulnerable Road Users Project. “They are so completely preventable.”

Big Problem

Drug impairment is becoming an increasing problem for police, according to Metro Detective Scott Lang from the Target DUI section.

About half the drug-impaired drivers Las Vegas police see are high on one of two groups of drugs: prescription medications, such as Lortab and Xanax, or common illicit drugs like methamphetamine and marijuana, Lang said.

But alcohol still reigns as king of death on Clark County roads.

During the past 10 years, more than 750 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes, according to FARS data.

That number accounts for 39 percent of all traffic fatalities in Clark County. The next most populous county in Nevada — Washoe — saw 33 percent of traffic fatalities caused by alcohol, according to FARS.

But both drugs and alcohol have similar effects on people driving or walking near roadways, Lang said.

“It’s basically like a muscle relaxer,” Lang said. “You’re reactions are going to be diminished. Many are impaired to the point where they just can’t react.”

The numbers for Clark County, while somewhat eye-popping, are just barely above the national averages for impaired traffic deaths.

For years, overall traffic death numbers where alcohol was a factor shrank.

In 2006, 122 people in Clark County were killed in a crash where alcohol was involved. That number dipped all the way to 48 in 2010 and 2011.

But since bottoming out , the numbers are steadily climbing back up.

“Our alcohol-related fatalities appear to be heading in the wrong direction” Breen said.

Again mirroring the national trend, Clark County isn’t extraordinary in that aspect. The same dip-and-rise is being seen across the U.S.

Tourists Dying

But there is at least one aspect that sets Southern Nevada apart from much of the U.S.

A lot of tourists die in crashes in Clark County, and statistics indicate that unfamiliarity with local roads isn’t the only issue.

According to Clark County coroner’s office statistics, about 20 percent of the people who died in crashes from 2008 to 2013 were from other states.

Compare that to tourist-heavy Orange County, Fla. — home to Orlando and Disney World — where only about 5 percent of those killed in crashes last year were from out of state, according to the medical examiner’s office there.

“It doesn’t surprise,” Lang said. “We have millions and millions of visitors every year. It’s basically the atmosphere that Las Vegas has created.”

So what’s being done to squelch drug and alcohol traffic fatalities?

Police departments across the state regularly conduct DUI checkpoints, especially during busy holiday weekends.

“It’s about getting to those people before they cause crashes,” said Swain, who spent 25 years with the Nevada Highway Patrol, working in Reno, Elko and Carson City before retiring as a lieutenant in 2010.

Breen said with the addition of new ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber coming to Las Vegas, getting home safely from a night out without driving impaired should be easier than ever.

Unfortunately, some people still take the risk, Swain said.

“It’s an ongoing challenge all the time for law enforcement and traffic safety,” Swain said, adding that there will always be someone who chooses to make get behind the wheel impaired.

Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Find him on Twitter: @ColtonLochhead

Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students. Educators from around the State are bringing the Red for Ed movement to the steps of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, NV, and to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing