Despite less Las Vegas traffic, roadway deaths, DUIs climb amid pandemic

Posted Saturday, 23 May 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

It’s not irrational to assume that the unprecedented depletion of traffic in the midst of a global pandemic would result in less carnage on Las Vegas roads. Those theories would be wrong. Desolate roads and highways amid the closing of nonessential businesses over the past two months have turned into deadly playgrounds for some impaired and reckless drivers in Southern Nevada, according to officials. In April, 24 people died on Nevada roadways, said Andrew Bennett, spokesman for Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety. That’s one more fatality than April 2019, and roughly double the number of deaths recorded in March, he noted. Added Bennett, April happened to coincide with “when we were telling people to stay at home.” Despite bar shutdowns, drunk driving hasn’t subsided. The DUI Strike Team, which comprises Metro Police officers and Nevada Highway Patrol troopers, tallied a record 133 arrests in April, compared to 75 in the same month in 2019, Bennett said. One theory is that residents are drinking and socializing at friends’ houses instead of the neighborhood tavern and are still driving home. “Plan ahead, have a good time, don’t get behind the wheel impaired. Because if you do, you will be prosecuted. And that hasn’t changed,” Bennett said. Reckless drivers, including those who accelerate their vehicles into triple-digit speeds, have also been a regular sight on local roads, officials said. On April 24, Trooper Travis Smaka was heading to a double-fatal crash — which was blamed on a motorist going more than 108 mph — near Summerlin Parkway and Anasazi Road when a car buzzed past his marked patrol vehicle at more than 90 mph. Smaka, the spokesman for the patrol, said he and his partner “more than a couple times” have had vehicles “blow our doors off.” His partner recently pulled over a driver going 113 mph. “It’s kind of surprising when you’re driving around what amounts to a big billboard and somebody blows by you going 90 to 100 mph,” Smaka said. Motorists arrested for impaired and reckless driving also have been caught with drugs and guns. • A motorist pulled over near Wyoming Avenue and Sandhill Road — going 41 mph in a 25 mph zone — was busted by Metro with trafficking heroin and cocaine. • A man arrested on May 13 had just been ticketed a week prior by Metro for going 17 mph over the speed limit. This time he was caught going about 40 mph over the limit, prompting police to book him on counts of reckless driving and DUI. “No ticket this time,” Metro’s traffic bureau wrote on Twitter, indicating the motorist would be booked into jail. • A motorist taken into custody the same day was caught going 120 mph in a 65 mph zone on a highway near Jones Boulevard, police said. He faced counts of reckless driving, DUI, battery on a protected person and possession of drugs with the intent to sell. The patrol has also used Twitter to post photos of their speed measuring devices tagging vehicles going into triple-digit speeds. They also show photos of guns, cash and drugs on the hoods of the arrested offenders. Smaka and Bennett could only theorize on the uptick in irresponsible driving while overall traffic has plummeted. One hypothesis is that with fewer cars out on the roads, authorities can more easily spot violators. Another theory is drivers are going at a faster rate because they aren’t accustomed to traveling on an open road. Nevada is in the middle of rolling out educational and enforcement campaigns, especially with Memorial Day weekend marking the start of what is referred to as the “100 deadliest days” for teen drivers, Bennett said. During the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, crashes involving teenage drivers rise so dramatically that AAA has given these summer months a name: the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers. The patrol and its partners on Wednesday also launched a two-week “click it or ticket” enforcement campaign. Additionally, Nevada is observing motorcycle safety awareness this month. Despite the outreach, Smaka says some of the replies on Twitter to the patrol’s tweets shaming reckless drivers have been puzzling. Among them are those who claim they are quality drivers who can handle high speeds. Smaka said it didn’t matter how gifted a driver was; a slower car pulling into their lane or a mechanical failure, such as a blowout, could be catastrophic. That’s especially true if you are impaired, with Smaka stressing “there’s never a good excuse to get behind the wheel impaired.”

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