Las Vegas Sun

October 30, 2014

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Decrease in crashes seen at targeted intersections

At 10 of the 15 intersections targeted by Metro Police for increased enforcement of traffic laws, the number of crashes in July dropped compared with July 2003, according to new police statistics.

But more people died on all Clark County roadways this July compared with the same month last year, according to Nevada's Department of Public Safety. The number of July fatalities grew from 19 last year to 29 this year, as the county's overall population also climbed.

"It's still too early to see the benefits," Capt. Vincent Cannito of Metro's Traffic Bureau, said of the department's three-month-old initiative to curb traffic violations and crashes in the valley by issuing a heavy flurry of tickets to offending motorists.

The initiative targets intersections with the highest numbers of crashes, and Metro announces to the public in advance where they'll be cracking down.

Despite Cannito's cautious appraisal of the department's program, the early results pleased at least one public safety expert.

Erin Breen, the director of Safe Community Partnership, part of the Transportation Research Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said traffic safety continues to be a major problem in the Las Vegas Valley, where motorists running red lights, speeding and following too closely to other vehicles are a common sight.

But she credits Metro for taking steps to address the problems and said the department should take full credit for reducing the number of crashes at some intersections in the valley.

"People had the impression that they were not going to get caught," Breen said of habitual traffic offenders. Metro's increased presence on roadways has begun to change that belief.

At Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane the number of crashes decreased from 14 in July 2003 to seven last month, according to Metro.

Further east, at the intersection of Tropicana and Eastern avenues, the number dropped from five to one.

At one location, Sahara Avenue and Paseo del Prado, the number of crashes increased from five to six.

Combined monthly numbers for the 15 targeted intersections decreased from 79 crashes in July 2003 to 48 last month.

They come out as Metro is gearing up for the back-to-school season. The police are warning motorists to slow down and obey the law as more motorists -- including teenaged drivers -- hit the road as students return to school.

According to Metro's Cannito, police typically witness a jump in the number of fatal crashes in September compared with August.

Last year 13 people died in crashes in Clark County in September compared with nine in August, according to Michael Perondi of Nevada's Office of Traffic Safety.

To help guard schoolchildren from motorists, Metro is currently recruiting crossing guards to work at 237 established school crossings at area elementary schools plus 18 additional ones at brand new elementary schools, said Helen Lawhon, a crossing guard supervisor for Metro Police. The position pays $8.65 an hour.

Recruiters will be at Meadows mall, 4300 Meadows Lane, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Lawhon said. Crossing guards work only at elementary schools, Lawhon added, where part of their job is to be a good example for children and parents of safe traffic behavior.

Educating the public is a key component in reducing the number of crashes in the valley, police and traffic safety experts said.

"We don't have enough resources to hit every part of town," Cannito said, explaining why teaching people about the problem is as important as studying the problem. "We're trying to spread our efforts out to see if we're consistent in our results."

Such efforts, though limited, are a critical first step in improving public safety on local roads, said Bill Sousa, an assistant professor of criminal justice at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"At the very least it is an informative exercise to determine where the problems are," Sousa, who researches police policy and management, said.

Sousa echoed Cannito's sentiment that more money and additional officers could stand to improve the results of police practices already shown to be effective.

"More officers who do a lot are always better than a few officers who do a lot," Sousa said. "What's more important is what the police are doing."

Sousa added that a good deal of research in the field of criminal justice indicates that an increased police presence in one area has beneficial ripple effects beyond that target, often reducing crime in surrounding areas, too.

He also said a police presence in one area is unlikely to drive motorists to commit the same violations elsewhere.

Shashi Nambisan, a civil engineering professor at UNLV and the director of the university's Transportation Research Center, said law enforcement alone cannot keep the public safe.

"There are four legs that hold up the chair: education, engineering, enforcement and emergency medicine," Nambisan said. "They all have to work together."

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