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County tabs familiar face to head newly created traffic safety department

Clark County made a significant hire last week as officials look to combat a spike in deaths on Southern Nevada roads.

Andrew Bennett was tabbed to be the director of the newly formed Clark County Department of Traffic Safety, as the state saw its deadliest year on the road in 14 years. Preliminary 2021 data revealed there were 235 traffic fatalities in Clark County, part of 382 deaths across Nevada last year.

Bennett has a long history of working in traffic safety, serving in various roles at the state level over 12 years, including as program manager and public information officer for the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety for the last five years.

Bennett’s last day with the state is Jan. 21, when he will transition to his new county role.

The goal is to have Bennett use what he learned at the state level and target specific areas of concern in the Las Vegas Valley.

“Moving from a state position to a county position affords me the opportunity to really look at safety at a corridor, a street level and an intersection level, rather than just the county approach overall when we (state) break out the fatalities by counties across the state,” Bennett said. “One of the things that drew me to the county was that they have a lot of programs and services in-house.”

Those include University Medical Center, the Metropolitan Police Department, comprehensive planning and other county funded groups.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who was key to the traffic department’s creation, said there was no better candidate to lead the county’s traffic safety office than Bennett.

“I think there is nobody more qualified or better equipped to address this problem than Mr. Bennett,” Naft said. “He’s become a statewide expert on the topic, he’s the person everybody turns to and I think he’ll be a tremendous asset to the county as we clearly make this a priority moving into the new year.”

The main goal of the department is to eliminate crash-related deaths in Southern Nevada. That will begin with focusing on roadway design, general use of roads, how traffic enforcement is carried out and how fatalities are investigated.

Bennett said he will rely on the experience and connections he made at the state level to help get some of the work done locally.

“There’s opportunities to make sure that we have an all-hands-on-deck approach in Clark County,” Bennett said. “That’s bringing in as many partners as possible and that includes at the state and federal level.”

Despite leaving his state position, Bennett will remain chair of the Nevada Advisory Committee on Traffic Safety. He can use that to make sure the emerging issues in Clark County are known statewide.

Beyond the human toll of fatal accidents, vehicle crashes also create a large financial burden.

The annual economic cost caused by motor vehicle crashes in Nevada is $1.98 billion, with $1.44 billion of that occurring in Clark County, according to the 2021 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws. A 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study put the total cost of Nevada’s 350 traffic crash fatalities at $498.2 million, or $1.4 million per fatal on average.

“Not only is the heartbreak and personal impact of a tragedy of either a fatality or a serious injury incomparable, but you also have to consider how significant the financial burden is to taxpayers,” Naft said. “By reducing that number not only are we able to save some lives, we’re also going to be able to save some money.”

Bennett said he takes great pride in being tabbed to be the first director of traffic safety in the county he was born and raised in.

“It’s a privilege,” he said. “I look forward to serving the community.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Send questions and comments to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com.

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