Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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Pedestrian fatalities climbing

Crowded crosswalks:

State auto/pedestrian accidents 1986

The following figures illustrate the number of accidents in which pedestrians have been injured as they attempted to cross streets and roadways throughout Nevada.

Number of auto/pedestrian accidents in Nevada: 567

Number of auto/pedestrian fatalities: 27

Number of victims in auto/pedestrian fatalities: 27

Number of auto/pedestrian injury accidents: 540

Number of victims in auto/pedestrian injury accidents: 630

When it comes to pedestrian-automobile accidents, we are our own worst enemy.

In 1986, there were 540 pedestrian-auto accidents in Nevada involving injuries. There were also 27 fatals. Clark County had 19 of them.

In 1987, there were 506 pedestrian-auto accidents involving injuries in Nevada. Thee wee 42 fatals, and Clark County had 32 of them. We also take the lion's share of bicycle-related deaths. In 1987 there were five such fatalities in the state and we had three of them.

Considering the thousands of tourists that swell Las Vegas' 600,000 population even further on a daily basis, the numbers aren't as bad as they might be. But we're still not doing well, and Nevada Highway Patrol isn't sure why.

There have been few studies on the cause of pedestrian-auto fatalities, although on factor has been isolated. In the majority of cases the victim was crossing against the light or outside of an intersection.

But one thing is clear: When a pedestrian meets a ton of metal even at nominal speeds, the pedestrian is not going too come out the winner. Even if they survive, their injuries are far graver than those of the driver protected behind that big metal frame.

And anyone driving in Clark County, particularly at the intersection of the Strip and Flamingo Road, and downtown, has encountered pedestrians walking out in the middle of traffic, totally oblivious to the traffic signs and sometimes offering obscene gestures if challenged. A few pedestrians questioned about their behavior blamed the light system for confusing them – offering a green light for cars, for example, at the same time the red wait signal for pedestrians was also illuminated.

"I thought the green light meant we could go,'' said a confused Utah resident, while a Wisconsin man explained, "It was red the other way, too, so I just thought the signal wasn't working.''

A Las Vegas man who crossed in the middle of the street, against the light at the nearby intersection, defended his actions as safe since there was no traffic and then berated other errant pedestrians for holding up traffic while he was driving. Another Las Vegas man jaywalked, casing a car making a left-hand turn to swerve around him. When stopped, he said, "There was no traffic coming.'' Asked if he saw the car that almost hit him he shrugged, "No, I miss that.''

"There was no traffic,'' offered a Colorado man.

It baffles Nevada Highway Patrol Capt. Dennis Green.

"At every intersection there is an unmarked crosswalk and there the pedestrian has the right of way," he says. "But if he crosses in the middle of the block, if there is no crosswalk, he takes the chance, and if he is struck, chances are the driver is not going to be charged."

State figures from 1986 show the majority of pedestrians killed by cars were between 41 to 50, followed by 21 to 30, and 31 to 40. National figures from two years ago showed pedestrians between 25 to 44 taking the brunt of the deaths. Those figures surprise Greene, who would have tagged both young children and the elderly as the prime targets for the accidents.

"Children have no real conception of what it means to drive a car, and the elderly have both their judgment and their speed impaired," says Greene. "Everyone has had the experience of driving and suddenly having a kid dart out in front. Children have no conception of how long it takes for a car to stop. If the ball rolls out in the street, they're going to forget they've been told not to go after it."

Unfortunately, says Greene, a child's center of gravity is lower than an adult's and because of that the child is going to go under the wheels of a car rather than thrown over.

There are ways to remedy the high cost of crossing. Greene would like to see overpasses with fenced roads or a beeper system similar to what is currently in operation in Salt Lake City for the blind. He says it's not practical to cite jaywalkers since the majority of violators in Clark County traffic are tourists and would not pay the costs anyway.

"I think visitors get so caught up in the openness of this city that they just don't notice the lights," says Thelma Smid, executive director for the Nevada Safety Council, who was also surprised that most victims are old enough to know better than to go walking against traffic and agile enough to accomplish that without being hit.

"Lots of them come from confined areas that experience a great deal more congestion than we have here. Plus they're saying "Oh, look at Caesars, look at Bally's!' They forget they're walking with machines."

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