A preliminary data analysis by The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada found that car crashes across the greater Las Vegas Valley are down by more than 60 percent compared to the same time last year.
Last year the first three weeks of March saw 683 traffic accidents across the Las Vegas metro area, this year there were only 266 accidents in that same time period.
“This is a nationwide trend,” said Bennett, the public information officer for the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety a division of the Department of Public Safety. “The month of March has seen a significant decrease of traffic accidents in our neighboring states and across the country.”
That data is from incidents the Nevada Department of Transportation and the RTC worked on and actively managed from the Southern Nevada Traffic Management Center, as well as incidents handled by the Nevada Highway Patrol and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.
Traffic related fatalities on state maintained roads like Chareston and Boulder Highway reduced by nearly 48 percent compared to the same time last year, according to data from the Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety, falling from 23 fatalities in March last year to 12 this year.
More fatal car crashes happen on arterial roads in the Las Vegas Metro area, said Bennett, which regularly sees 100 plus fatal car crashes a year.
Whether the data shows a trend that will continue in the following months, only more data will tell.
“We only get to see two weeks of March at this point so I would prefer to see another month of data, but we have been able to clearly see that traffic volume is down. With fewer vehicle miles traveled naturally you expect fewer crashes,” Bennett said.
The shut down nonessential businesses, schools and fewer people commuting to work has led to far fewer vehicles on the road in March. Some car insurance companies are even offering rebates and discounts to policy holders for driving less.
Traffic volumes have decreased by up to 70 percent on certain highways, explaining the corresponding decrease in car accidents.
Traffic volume across South Las Vegas Boulevard decreased by almost 60 percent compared to the same time last year.
“This is unprecedented,”said John Penuelas, the senior director of engineering at the RTC. “We have seen drops in volume before and we’ve never seen anything like this. Seventy percent drops in interstate traffic is unheard of.”
“There’s so much traffic coming between Las Vegas and Southern California. When the tourists aren’t moving, that’s what causes those dramatic numbers.”
That traffic data is collected through 700 sensors on freeways and major roadways across the greater Las Vegas area which fire radar beams across the lanes and are capable of picking up volume lane by lane.
Penuelas, a lifelong native Nevadan, has been an employee of the RTC for the last five years after working as a traffic engineer for the City of Henderson. He said he hasn’t seen the streets anywhere near as desolate since the days after the 9/11 attack.
“We suspect those numbers are going to last plus or minus two percentage points through April,” Penuelas said.
One concern about the new traffic patterns is that the state agencies are seeing an increase in travel speed, meaning empty roads are inviting people who are on them to drive faster.
“That is a concern,” Penuelas said.
“It’s a natural thing with fewer cars,” Penuelas said. “Our roads are flat and straight generally, and you could be going pretty fast before you know it. We encourage people to pay closer attention to their surroundings.”
Before the reduction of traffic due to the coronavirus, speed related traffic fatalities were up in the first months of the year.
“Even though speed limits remain the same the traveling speed has increased and that is something that is of concern to us,” Bennatt said, adding that speed is a factor in car crash fatalities about 35 percent of the time.
Bennett stressed that people should remember the basics: Buckling up is the single most important thing you can do when you get behind the wheel. Never drive while impaired — more than half of fatal car crashes involve drinking and driving. And follow the speed limit.
“There’s no such thing as give or take five miles an hour,” Bennet said. “The other thing that’s important for people to know is that we are still enforcing the law.”