Friday, June 19, 2009 | 3 a.m.
It was just a couple of years ago that cops and reporters gathered at Rainbow Boulevard and Craig Road. Although police and journalists don’t always play nice together, on this occasion — a news conference to announce an awareness-raising campaign — they were partners.
The campaign was called “Red Means Stop,” and it was designed to get people to quit running red lights. We had agreed to publicize it in our Home News group of community newspapers.
At the time we launched this campaign in 2007, and perhaps continuing to this day — there is a surprising lack of current data on the topic — Nevada was one of the nation’s leaders in per capita deaths as a result of drivers disobeying traffic signals.
We held the news conference at the intersection of Rainbow and Craig for somber symbolic reasons: It had been the intersection at which the first fatality of 2007 had occurred.
The media don’t like news conferences to begin with, and on such a hot August day this one was even less appealing. But with the sheriff and a couple of police chiefs, a parking lot of Metro squad cars and legions of motorcycle officers all on hand, the event moved forward.
The loud collision occurred as we were taking our places in front of the cameras. Right behind the large promotional sign we used as a lectern backdrop, a driver had run a red light and mashed a car turning in front of him. It was too ironic, so much so that a few observers thought the event was staged. Some cameras even got footage. Luckily, there were no serious injuries, and we felt we had picked up another testimonial to how widespread the problem with red lights was.
I’d thought this to be the most stunning possible example of the problem. But that only lasted until the middle of last month.
On Saturday, May 23, a Metro officer and a local woman suffered minor injuries in a crash that occurred after his police cruiser disregarded a red light and entered the intersection at Ann Road and Jones Boulevard.
And then a couple of days later, on Monday, May 25, a Metro Police patrol car sailed through a red light at Rainbow Boulevard and Twain Avenue, smacking straight into a passenger vehicle, the pair of them then careening into two other cars.
Unlike the crash that killed Officer James Manor on May 7, neither Metro vehicle was engaged in a pursuit or responding to an emergency call. But like Manor, neither one was using its lights or siren.
So now we have even better perspective as to how widespread the problem is locally. And also an indication that things aren’t likely to change in the short term.
As it did in 2005 and in 2007, a proposal to legalize the use of photo-radar cameras in Nevada once again went nowhere in Carson City. Oh, all the historic arguments for and against were employed when it came up in April. After a debate about the intrusiveness of the system, its effectiveness, costs and potential revenue, the bill quietly went bye-bye, keeping with tradition.
A new concern that surfaced, though, is that there is no consensus as to whether photo-radar cameras are in fact a deterrent to red-light runners. Many parts of the U.S. think they are, but now some studies are showing up that indicate otherwise.
Some of these studies are put out by organizations such as the National Motorist Association, which long has carried a torch against photo radar. But there are other reports as well.
So here we are. Although I’m guessing it’s a trend that Metro won’t let continue, we can now add police cruisers to drivers of all ages, piloting every type of vehicle including the occasional bus, who all are in too much of a hurry to pause for a red light. And we can’t do anything about it.
Even if photo radar were a deterrent to red-light runners — and the jury may be out on this — the fact is that it is not soon going to be legalized anyway. This means that, aside from stationing police at key intersections in town — neither practical nor possible — we’re going to have to rely on awareness campaigns, supported by local media. A lot of media.
After all, we have to do something. When we lose touch with such a basic rule in our society, only bad things can happen.
Bruce Spotleson is group publisher of In Business Las Vegas.