Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2014

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LV pedestrian deaths linked to tourists

The high pedestrian fatality rate in Las Vegas could cause some residents to conclude that their lives are at risk every time they cross the street.

But law enforcement officials and the American Automobile Association say pedestrian death statistics in tourist meccas generally are boosted by visitors, not residents.

A recent AAA study found that Las Vegas rates 27th safest for pedestrians among 43 cities with populations between 200,000 and 500,000.

The most alarming statistics is that Las Vegas' average annual pedestrian death rate is 5.6 per 100,000 population, compared with the national average of 2.3 per 100,000.

"Many of our pedestrian fatalities involve pedestrians being intoxicated or otherwise in error (walking outside crosswalks, wandering into traffic, etc.),'' Metro Police Lt. Ray Flynn said.

"Tourism and the general party atmosphere of the city also are contributing factors.''

Garth Gardner, spokesman for the Nevada Highway Patrol, which investigates fatal accidents along the Strip, Boulder Highway and interstate highways, echoed Flynn's assessment.

"A good number of pedestrian fatalities we investigate involve intoxicated people who wander into the roadway or are run over while trying to cross several lanes of traffic,'' Gardner said.

"A lot of times visitors are so intent at looking at the sights that they are not watching where they are going.''

Geoff Sundstrom, a AAA spokesman, said it is not uncommon for cities such as Las Vegas to have higher pedestrian fatality rates.

"Any tourist location would have difficulty preventing such fatalities because visitors often are not familiar with traffic patterns,'' Sundstrom said.

Tourist-oriented cities such as Atlantic City and Orlando, Fla., did not participate in the study, Sundstrom said. However, many tourist towns that did participate revealed high pedestrian death rates.

For example, New Orleans had 5.3 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people. Tampa, Fla., had 4.0 deaths per 1000,000, and neighboring St. Petersburg, Fla., had 3.7 deaths.

The AAA study, in addition to statistics, took into consideration prevention programs and enforcement methods employed in nearly 2,400 cities that were rated by population, Sundstrom said.

For the eighth time since 1971, Wisconsin had the lowest statewide percentage for pedestrian deaths and injuries and had superior pedestrian education and enforcement efforts.

Cities receiving high marks for pedestrian awareness programs and low fatality rates included San Jose, Calif., Sterling Heights, Mich., and Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.

Flynn and Gardner said Southern Nevada's most effective pedestrian awareness programs are taught in the schools by visiting law enforcement officials.

"I think we have been successful in the school because most of our pedestrian fatalities -- at least 90 percent or more -- involved adults,'' Flynn said.

"We need more public awareness among adults. It is important that people know that walking while intoxicated, like driving drunk, is against the law."

Gardner, who goes to area schools to teach prevention programs, believes children pass on what they learn to their parents, and influence them to practice safety measures.

He points to the seat belt awareness program, where children show what they learned in school by asking their parents to buckle up.

"We are working toward the same thing with pedestrian safety," Gardner said.

Statewide statistics, compiled by the Highway Patrol, indicate such programs may be working and, if the trend continues, that Las Vegas may receive better ratings in future AAA studies.

Between 1990 and 1991, Nevada's pedestrian fatalities statewide decreased from 56 to 36, while pedestrian injuries dipped form 646 to 562, the Highway Patrol reported.

In Las Vegas, pedestrian fatalities during that period decreased from 45 to 23, while pedestrian injuries dropped form 430 to 360.

Nevada was among the 28 states that did not participate in the statewide portion of the AAA study, Sundstrom said. Las Vegas participated independently.

The study found that Wisconsin, for the eighth time since 1971, had the lowest statewide percentages of pedestrian deaths and injuries and had superior pedestrian education and enforcement efforts.

The cities and states were rated by a panel of safety experts fro the Institute of Police Technology and Management, the Highway Users Federation for Safety and Mobility, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pedestrian Safety Institute and AAA.

The AAA Pedestrian Protection Program was begun in 1939 when U.S. pedestrian deaths numbered 12,400 annually. Despite significant increases in population, such fatalities have steadily declined.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said last year there were 5,797 pedestrian deaths in the United States.

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