In 2006, an effort spearheaded by the Nevada Department of Transportation set out with a lofty goal: to reduce Nevada traffic fatalities by 100 within two years. Remarkably, they met that goal-and fatalities have continued to drop through 2009.
When the effort, dubbed the Nevada Strategic Highway Safety Plan, began in 2006, traffic fatalities had reached an all-time annual high of 434. The group of law enforcement agencies, health districts, emergency management organizations, traffic engineers and others identified five key areas of focus: impaired driving, intersections, pedestrians, seat belts and lane departures.
Those efforts have paid off: Last year, there were only 243 fatalities on Nevada roads, a 44 percent reduction from the 2006 total. The decline has been attributed in part to the program's efforts, which included engineering changes to roads and stepped-up enforcement efforts. Other factors contributing to the decline include today's safer cars and an overall reduction in the number of miles driven because of the downturn in the economy in 2009. (Traffic fatalities nationwide were also at an all-time low in 2009.)
State and local officials point to increased enforcement as the principal reason for the decline. In particular, law enforcement agencies have increased their presence on the roads at certain key times, such as morning rush hour and New Year's Eve. By being highly visible on the roads, law enforcement officials say, they encourage drivers to be on their best behavior.
Increased analysis of fatalities on Nevada roads since 2006 has given the group a better understanding of the reasons that some deaths occur, as well. For example, many pedestrian deaths occurred when late-night shift workers attempted to cross eight-lane roads with a speed limit of 45. Officials report that in 2009, pedestrian deaths were down to 36, from 57 in just the previous year.