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STEVE SEBELIUS: To stop fatal crashes, first change your attitude

Updated February 7, 2022 - 10:56 am

Once more, blood stains Southern Nevada’s roads.

Once more, it didn’t have to happen.

The Jan. 29 crash — don’t call it an accident, because it wasn’t — killed nine people, including a 5-year-old child, because a driver was speeding at more than 100 miles per hour and ran a red light.

Now a family is planning funerals.

The absolute worst part? It didn’t have to happen.

Anybody who has driven in Las Vegas for more than a minute knows driving in Southern Nevada puts you in mortal peril.

Chances are you, like me, have nearly died on the mean streets of Las Vegas and you’ve seen others come close to dying, too. And the chances are you, like me, have contributed to the problem yourself, by speeding, running red lights or cutting other drivers off without a second thought.

And while there’s absolutely no excuse for dangerous traffic lawbreaking, let’s also acknowledge the truth that it’s not all the fault of bad driving.

We’ve all seen phantom construction zones, perfectly usable lanes closed without a single human doing any work. Have you thought of knocking down those cones and using those lanes? I have.

We’ve all seen the empty carpool lanes, restricted 24/7 to people with passengers (and, let’s be honest, those scofflaws who risk the ticket to avoid the traffic in regular lanes). Those carpool lanes exist only because state officials want them there, regardless of how little they actually encourage carpooling.

We’ve all noticed how poorly most signal lights are timed, how aggravating it is to stop at almost every red light on a given street, frustration building block by block. Have you ever run one of those lights, only to discover you hit every green the rest of the way? I have, and that’s dangerous information to have.

We’ve all seen yearslong construction projects that turn marginally useful freeways into miserable daily slogs. Or poorly executed temporary lanes during road construction that actually increase the chance of accidents.

And, of course, we’ve all seen bad drivers, changing lanes without signaling, speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, pulling out of strip malls right in the path of fast-moving traffic, road raging at slights real and perceived.

In the wake of the Jan. 29 crash, we’ve heard calls for reform. More traffic signals, to prevent people from gathering speed on long blocks. Technology to limit speeds on cars. Different road design. Limits on “high-performance” cars. Red-light cameras to issue tickets. (Or, more properly, more tickets, because Nevada police wrote more than 5,000 tickets for speeding at more than 100 mph in 2021.)

But we need a more basic reform if we’re ever going to see real change on our roads.

Because the Jan. 29 tragedy was not the fault of the Regional Transportation Commission, or the city of North Las Vegas, or the firm that designed or built the road, or the police department or the other drivers. It was entirely and exclusively the fault of the man who had his foot on the gas pedal and his hands on the wheel. It was his decision to drive more than three times the speed limit, to ignore a traffic signal, to risk hurting others.

It’s that attitude that has to change. The idea that the rules don’t apply. (The driver had been cited for speeding at least five times before Jan. 29 and had pleaded guilty to his most recent offense just nine days before the crash.) The idea that nobody else matters.

No new technology, or law enforcement, or road design is going to fix that problem, not before every one of us who gets on Southern Nevada’s roads has a sincere change of heart and realizes that we all share the roads and other drivers are also worthy of respect and courtesy.

Call it the Golden Rule of the Road. Drive with others as you would have them drive with you. You don’t want to be the person who causes the unimaginable suffering that follows fatal crashes.

Because road rage, aggressive driving, speeding and other dangerous behaviors are not benign. Behind the wheel of a fast-moving, multi-ton machine, those things can quickly turn deadly. We’ve seen it too many times.

There’s blood on the streets of Southern Nevada. Again. And we all have a role in seeing that more of it isn’t spilled, that other families aren’t destroyed and that our streets don’t continue to be killing fields.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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