The Nevada Highway Patrol, Office of Traffic Safety and Department of Transportation have begun a statewide campaign to improve Nevada's roadway safety record. They point out that more than 400 died and many more were injured in traffic accidents last year and Gov. Jim Gibbons has made it a priority to reduce the toll.
Trooper Chuck Allen, the public information liaison for NHP, says that means tough enforcement by troopers and other law enforcement officers who see dangerous driving, inattentive driving and legal violations.
What are the top priorities for troopers and police to improve traffic safety?
When law enforcement steps up, we're going to look for the moving violations including speeding and unsafe lane changes. I think speeding is the leading cause of fatal or serious injury accidents. That's followed by driver inattention. With aggressive driving and the impaired driver, it's more common today for someone to call in on a cell phone.
We look for the impaired drivers, alcohol and drug use.
You've said one of the effective strategies is enforcement teams. Describe how those work and what the driver will see.
When drivers see a high presence of law enforcement on a given stretch of roadway, that alerts other motorists to adjust their driving. When we go into an area with patrol cars and motorcycles, we make a dramatic impact in the area. When motorists see someone pulled over for a citation, it gets their attention, but a lot of the time they don't really slow down much. But when they see more than one, it gets their attention. They slow down and pay better attention.
The intent of the Colonel (Chris Perry, head of NHP) is to strategically dispatch teams to different areas of the state. A lot of times, the residents call with complaints about speeding on a stretch of roadway.
In the Pleasant Valley area, we just completed a one-month joint effort to curtail speeding with NHP and Washoe Sheriffs. One of those troopers said in one day he wrote 18 speeding citations and not one was for less than 70 mph. The limit there is 50.
In the corridor between Fernley and Reno, a team wrote 65 citations in three hours with three patrol cars and an aircraft observing the violations.
What other strategies will law enforcement be using to try to reduce dangers on the roadways?
There will be DUI checkpoints this summer and pedestrian enforcement. We're planning to do a "Seat belt clicker" in May. And DUI checkpoints in June, July and August.
We'll be deploying the radar trailers. They don't ticket you but they tell you how fast you're going. It's another visual reminder to drivers.
Nevada's fatality rate has gone up. But is that the result of population growth or increasing driver distractions such as cell phones?
Of course part of it is the population growth. There are a lot more cars on Nevada's roads. But drivers are more distracted, in a hurry. That's what we see on the highway. And take the cell phone. It's been proven individuals talking on a cell phone exhibit the same characteristics as folks under the influence of alcohol. Often they don't maintain the travel lane. They don't use signals because they're driving with one hand. They may not react immediately when the signal changes from red to green.
The fact is, whenever you divide your attention, whether it's alcohol or talking on a cell phone, that is reflected in what we see in your driving.
What can drivers do to protect themselves out there?
Pay attention. Don't try do other things while you're driving in traffic.
Know your environment. Whenever you can create more distance between yourself and the oncoming traffic, your chances for a collision are greatly reduced. That means if you drive in the fast lane all the time, your chances of a head-on are greater. In the slow lane, your distance from oncoming traffic is increased. You might have an extra second to react to the vehicle coming toward you.
I say always wear your seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is probably the biggest factor in determining whether some one lives and escapes serious injury in an accident. So use the belts even if you're just going to the store.
Also, use your turn signals so other drivers know what you're doing and obey the posted speed limits. If you do that, there's no reason for you to get a citation.