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Nevada Road Fatalities Increase Year Over Year with Less Traffic

One year after the unprecedented Covid-19 lockdown that shut down Nevada and the rest of the world, the State is returning to pre-pandemic times, and slowly progressing towards a complete return to normal life. Traffic, or the lack thereof, is one of the many changes Nevadans have had to deal with during these times, and a recent statistic shows an alarming pattern — While traffic has decreased over the past year, the number of Nevada traffic accident related fatalities has increased.

Decreasing Traffic and Increased Deaths

The Nevada Department of Transportation reported in early March that the rate of traffic has dropped over the past year, with traffic falling forty-nine percent in parts of Reno like Golden Valley and McCarran Boulevard. This means almost 30,000 less cars per day. In addition, the highest decrease in the entire state was at State Line in Lake Tahoe, which saw an eighty-one percent decrease this year. This drop can be attributed to a drop in tourism due to the pandemic; this is also a major reason for the drop in traffic in downtown Las Vegas and the Strip, especially near casinos and hotels.

However, traffic deaths  increased from 2019 (Pictured Above), with 314 fatal accidents in 2020 — an almost 4% increase. Washoe County had one of the highest increases in Nevada with fifty-one deaths, a 42% increase from the previous year. These accidents include motor vehicle collisions as well as accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles.  So far this year there have been 48 fatalities reported as of this writing, which puts us on pace for less then 2020 even though traffic is on the rise.  Sobering statistics to say the least.

While this increase can be concerning, a spokesperson for the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety was not surprised by it. They attributed this increase to three main reasons:

  1. Less congested roads increased the rate of speeding and risky behavior.  Many saw this as an opportunity to drive at excessive speeds and drive recklessly.
  2. Impairment by Alcohol or Drugs.  The pandemic was stressful for many, and driving under the influence was on the rise this past year.
  3. Decreased use of Seatbelts.  As we noted in an earlier post, Nevada seat belt laws are rated poorly vis a vie other States in America, with regards to the enforcement of laws encouraging the use of restraints while driving. The pandemic did not help this, and the empty street made people feel as though they could do whatever they want, including forgoing the use of seat belts.

Nevada Legislation

Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety has passed these grim statistics on to lawmakers who have indicated that new legislation may be proposed to help improve road safety in Nevada.

One major improvement comes in terms of seatbelt safety. Seatbelts are a vital part of road safety and the National Highway Safety Administration states that seatbelts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. In addition, 47% of those killed in car accidents nationally were unrestrained during the time of the accident. [2]

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety rated Nevada in the “red zone” in terms of its seatbelt safety, and stated, “(Nevada) falls dangerously behind in adoption of recommended optimal laws.” Nevada lawmakers hope to adopt more legislation that can combat this. One of these is a rule making driving without a seatbelt a primary offense, meaning someone can be pulled over if driving without one. Currently, in Nevada, you cannot be pulled over for this, and can only be cited for it after being pulled over for something else.

In addition, the safety office would like to optimize safety for both cars and pedestrians by adding more street lights, as well as adding cross walks and repainting old and run down street signs and signals. The representative for the Office of Highway Safety stated, “There are over twenty bills that will directly relate to traffic safety…Between teen driving, car passenger safety…” They hope these laws can increase Nevada’s safety rating to at least “yellow”, and can also decrease the number of fatality causing accidents in the state.

While laws and regulations can be passed, very little can be done to suppress human behavior and to stop people from making irresponsible choices. Educating and encouraging safe driving practices is the closest we can get to getting people to make better decisions. In terms of seatbelts, here are some simple facts as to why they are effective and necessary:

  • Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash.
  • Airbags cannot replace seatbelts.
  • Ill-Fitting Seatbelts are not effective —The seatbelt should be secured accordingly
  • The lap belt and shoulder belt are secured across the pelvis and rib cage, which are better able to withstand crash forces than other parts of your body.
  • Place the shoulder belt across the middle of your chest and away from your neck.
  • The lap belt rests across your hips, not your stomach.
  • NEVER put the shoulder belt behind your back or under an arm [2]

Making smart choices and acting responsibly can help curb the number of fatalities on Nevada roads and make it safer for everyone.

[1] https://mynews4.com/news/local/traffic-down-deaths-up-in-northern-nevada-during-the-pandemic

[2] https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts#young-kids

Image Credit: Nevada Departments of Public Safety & Transportation

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