During the lockdown traffic was light, but speeds weren’t. (Nevada Current file photo)
On June 23, a man driving a 1999 Mercury Grand Marquis pulled into a parking lot and after failing to park in a marked space, drove onto a walkway, striking and killing a 23 year-old woman before he fled the scene.
He was caught a short time later showing indications of impairment, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Traffic Bureau.
The collision marks a troubling trend in hit and run fatalities and pedestrian fatalities on sidewalks on Clark County roadways.
Records show that eight of the 28 pedestrian fatalities in 2020 involved drivers who fled the scene, according to Erin Breen, coordinator for the Traffic Safety Coalition at UNLV, which researches pedestrian deaths.
“What we see most often in hit and run crashes is that it’s usually that vulnerable pedestrian most often because they don’t do enough damage to the vehicle to stop it,” Breen said. “The inhumanity of it is truly mind boggling to me. The fact that people can know they’ve taken a life and just walk away.”
Statistics show a drop in pedestrian fatalities compared to data from the same time last year in Clark County, but a large increase in sidewalk deaths.
About 20 percent of pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2020 were on the sidewalk, significantly higher than the 5 percent average. The rate through the first half of this year was even higher than in 2017, when pedestrian deaths on sidewalks was at 13 percent , the highest percentage ever recorded in Clark County at the time.
In one case in May three pedestrians were waiting at a bus stop on Desert Inn when a compact SUV veered across multiple lanes before jumping the curb in front of the stop, killing one person, before the driver fled the scene on foot.
That same month, a 65-year-old woman waiting at a bus stop on Owens was hit and dragged into the street by a car which hit two light posts before coming to stop with the woman still underneath.
“You can just take your eyes off the road for a couple seconds at 45 miles per hour and lose total control of your car and very easily drive off the road and onto the sidewalk. That’s one of the things that makes our streets particularly mean,” said Breen.
Between 2014 and 2018, Clark County reported the highest number of fatal pedestrian crashes in Nevada, accounting for about 76 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the state. according to a June report from the Nevada Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety.
A lack of pedestrian safety infrastructure can also increase danger on the street. In the case of both pedestrian-involved fatalities at bus stops neither stop was pushed back from the curb or outfitted with a bus shelter.
Of the over 3,300 bus stops under the purview of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), only 1,690 have shelters, and of those only about 1,205 are set back for safety, according to the RTC.
Over the past decade, the RTC spent more than $18.3 million to improve rider and pedestrian safety at bus shelters and stops in Southern Nevada, including pushing back shelters five feet from the curb and purchasing new shelters.
By 2018, the RTC completed work to push back all bus stops available to the agency, but private property and a lack of right-of-way prevented the RTC from pushing back the rest.
“Shelters are meant to improve the comfort of those waiting for their ride,” said Francis Julien, RTC deputy CEO. “Distance from the roadway is a major contributor to bus stop safety.”
“When it comes to preventing drivers from driving into a sidewalk that’s a hard thing to stop,” said Andrew Bennett, a spokesman with Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety. “You have to look at what it took for Las Vegas Boulevard, which was putting up bollards. That’s impractical to do on every street.”
Speed and impairment are a likely contributing factor in the rise of cars hitting pedestrians on sidewalks, Bennett said. Traffic data shows there were significantly fewer vehicles on Clark County’s major roads during this spring as businesses closed and people stayed home, but more drivers were speeding.
“During the stay at home order we saw an increase in both DUI and speed related fatalities,” Bennett said. “When we see an increase in speed and DUI’s that’s a deadly combination which can lead to something like this, pedestrians killed on sidewalks.”
“When we look at what contributes to a pedestrian fatality when the driver is at fault, it’s speed, it’s impairment, and it’s distraction.”
The Office of Traffic Safety is working with law enforcement in Southern Nevada to station extra patrols with the specific purpose of discouraging speeding and reckless driving. The program is made possible by federal funding.
More pedestrian fatal crashes occur in November than any other month between 2014 and 2018, according to data from the Nevada Department of Public Safety and the Office of Traffic Safety, meaning there’s a possibility Southern Nevada pedestrians could face worse danger in the coming months, said Bennett, adding that pedestrians should stay informed about potential dangers.
“Even if it’s 100 percent the driver’s fault if they drive into the sidewalk we still have to educate pedestrians about that danger, because unfortunately the car is always going to win,” Bennett said.
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