It’s not exaggerating by too much to say Las Vegas streets and freeways are blood-soaked killing fields through which the Grim Reaper drunk-drives his Chevy Corvair while texting, eating lunch, changing the radio station and sharpening his scythe.
But it’s also important that elected leaders and the government officials they hire to ensure safety focus on the real problems, rather than symptoms.
The Associated Press’ Michelle Rindels reported back in January that 284 people lost their lives on Nevada roads in 2014, an increase from the previous year but well below 2006’s record-setting 432 deaths. But no matter how many public information campaigns we see, how many encouragements to drive sober and pay attention, we still see incredible acts of stupidity and carelessness on our streets.
On Thursday, two women were killed when their Nissan Versa was rolled by the impact of a late-model Mercedes Benz speeding down Boulder Highway. A 22-year-old man was arrested and charged with DUI in that incident.
On Tuesday, Summerlin Parkway was closed for hours while police investigated a crash that destroyed a police motorcycle during a routine traffic stop. A 30-year-old man who was later arrested and charged with DUI allegedly drove his car into the motorcycle and the car it had pulled over. (The police officer and the driver of the other vehicle weren’t injured.)
And that was just this week! It’s a rare day that news flashes about horrific crashes, shut-down freeways and pedestrian deaths don’t fill our email inboxes. It’s rarer still that those of us who tempt fate daily by driving on our roads don’t see acts of negligence and selfishness so egregious they defy belief. (If I had $1 for every person I’ve seen still using a handheld cellphone while driving, I’d have more money than Megabucks.)
In response, officials institute safety campaigns, usually accompanied by heavy police response. One of my favorites is the one in which a Metro police officer dresses up in an outlandish costume (think Santa or a chicken) and walks across a street in a crosswalk, with fellow cops waiting nearby to issue tickets for motorists who fail to yield.
But is that really the best way to fix the problem? We’ve heard that the vast majority of pedestrian deaths are the fault of the person walking, not the motorist. Jaywalking, distracted walking (using cellphones or listening to music) or walking while intoxicated are all reasons pedestrians get hit and killed; shouldn’t that be the focus of enforcement?
In North Las Vegas, police are targeting jaywalking (fine: $195) along with distracted or negligent driving. That’s a smart approach.
Another favorite program of mine is the “Badge on Board” program run by the Nevada Highway Patrol, in which a trooper rides along with a truck driver and radios his or her fellow officers to ticket people who drive unsafely around big rigs. It’s OK, as far as it goes, but where’s the companion program in which cops ride with regular folk and call in tickets for poorly driven trucks? Regular Las Vegas drivers have undoubtedly witnessed trucks cut off other motorists, hog the fast lane or commit other violations. Where’s the enforcement program for that?
And then there’s the call to reduce the speed limits on certain roads or make streets narrower, to slow traffic down. But making the streets safer for pedestrians shouldn’t come at the expense of useful transportation. Many traffic-calming ideas won’t solve the problem any better than pedestrians following the advice mom and dad should give every child: “Look both ways!”
Traffic safety is going to require everybody to give a little: Drivers need to pay better attention and show more courtesy to their fellow motorists. Pedestrians need to cross in marked crosswalks and only with the light. (It would also help if they’d stop dressing like ninjas after dark, too.) We all want to get home safely, without being the victim or the perpetrator of an awful fatal incident.
Oh, and watch out for Death’s Corvair, would you? That guy drives like crap.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.