Sheriff Ken Furlong says pedestrians and drivers are both in for a rude awakening.
Saying the situation is out of control in Carson City, he promised a plan is in the works that will crack down on both groups.
“It’s not just who has the right of way, it’s pedestrians that are absolutely blocking traffic by jaywalking. It’s pedestrians in cross walks that no one is yielding to. It’s absolutely reckless drivers.”
Furlong said he’s hearing an outcry from all sorts of people about the conduct of both drivers and pedestrians.
“It’s insane out there,” he said.
But Furlong said he’s doing something about it.
Two weeks ago, he convinced the Board of Supervisors to allocate funding to bring back the traffic enforcement unit that was cut during the recession. As if to put an exclamation point on the need, just three days later another pedestrian was killed.
“Drivers on Highway 50 have become such a danger that that will ultimately be our focus as soon as we can field these officers,” he said. “That is going to be an area of primary concern.”
Furlong said there were two fatalities in a row on Highway 50 and both drivers were driving on suspended licenses and both pedestrians were intoxicated.
He said it will take time to get those traffic officers up and on the streets but soon, deputies will be focusing on violations whether by those on foot, bicycles or in vehicles.
Much of the problem is people just not paying attention. Drivers and pedestrians are on their phones, snacking, not obeying lights and signs. And too often they throw attitude when something happens.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a man focused on his phone walked into an intersection downtown right in front of a reporter’s car. He had to hit the brakes pretty hard to avoid hitting him. His response was to flip off the reporter and continue walking across Stewart against the red light.
Furlong said even he has been the victim.
“There were two guys drag racing behind me and they ran me off the road,” he said.
He said a lot of the close calls and crashes occur when someone is trying to turn right or left, paying attention to the vehicles coming from the other direction but not what’s in front of them, “and just not seeing the pedestrians.”
But he said that doesn’t excuse the pedestrians who should be paying attention to vehicles even when they have the right of way.
As Furlong pointed out, even if you’re in the right and in a crosswalk, you won’t win the battle with a car or truck.
So those traffic enforcement deputies will be ticketing those on foot as well as those in a vehicle.
He said the problem is compounded at this time of year when sunrise comes late and sunset much earlier than in the summer. Even more so by the fact many, especially young people, prefer to dress in all dark-colored clothing, making them even more difficult to see.
Then there’s the impaired driving — and walking.
“We are seeing more and more traffic-related offenses that have drugs and alcohol on board,” he said.
He pointed to marijuana, saying when legalization first passed, most people were content to imbibe at home. “But it is increasingly common for us to find marijuana and driving under the influence of alcohol combined,” he said.
Added to that problem is the number of people on different medicines that, combined with alcohol, create or exaggerate impairment.
Furlong said beyond impaired driving, he and his deputies are seeing distracted driving and aggressive driving, as he put it, “jockeying” for position on the roadway.
He said that will become a real problem when Carson City gets snow — especially coming down Lakeview Hill from the Washoe County line.
Another issue is the significant number of drivers who don’t have a license because of a DUI or other infraction.
“Those drivers are going to be primary targets,” he said. “Get the people off the road who don’t belong there in the first place.”
He said he went to the supervisors for money outside the regular budget cycle because, “the problem is absolutely unacceptable.”
He said the department expects to have an operational plan by January and the added staff will come on board about the same time. But it will take some time to train them so the unit won’t be fully functional until probably spring.
In the meantime, he said they will continue education efforts and warnings and work with the Nevada Highway Patrol and other agencies to reduce dangerous behavior.
“Enforcement is absolutely necessary because it’s getting worse every day,” Furlong said.
He said it’s not even uncommon that they stop someone who’s one of those who complained to the department about bad drivers. In one case, a man who complained about traffic in his neighborhood was stopped two weeks later doing 50 mph over the speed limit in that same neighborhood.
“It’s almost like, everyone else is the problem, not me,” said Furlong. “This is an advisory to everyone — we are coming forward as rapidly as I can.”
“Until we can get our officers out there and start enforcing we need drivers to pay attention,” Furlong said.