Calling All Cars! – Theories on Sin City Traffic Safety

Frustrated drivers wait in traffic. <em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>
Frustrated drivers wait in traffic.
Photo by John Robert Taylor

Las Vegas is unique for countless reasons and those distinctions may contribute to the large number of collisions.

The Spaghetti Bowl isn’t the only Bowl in town. Las Vegas itself is one large bowl. It’s a valley, which is an elongated depression between uplands, hills, or in our case mountains. So in addition to the high crowns shaped for water runoff during rainstorms, there is a consistent decline from the mountains into the center of the city. These aspects affect maneuverability and stopping distances. Since most local motorists didn’t learn to drive here, this presents a problem. Those from the Midwest, like yours truly, or any flat region east of the Mississippi River are accustomed to driving on level ground.

Ever notice that some motorcyclists stick to one side of a lane rather than riding in the center? Usually they’ve learned (by wiping out) that vehicle fluids build up in the center of travel lanes. The centers of lanes can be slick even when they look dry. To make matters worse, when there’s finally some rainfall, the fluids liquefy and spread to the entire road rather than dissipate. As the signs warn, roads really do become “slippery when wet.” They’re slicker here in Vegas than in areas where the roadways are more frequently washed clean by rainfall.

Thanks to low humidity and moderately clear air, the sun shines unfiltered into drivers’ eyes. Even though most people wear sunglasses, there’s an increased risk of momentary blindness or reduced vision because of glare.

The weather and the culture mean that people can hit the roads with street rods, convertibles, and sports cars for most of the year. While not every person who drives a Maserati is a thrill seeker, recreational drivers do have a tendency to take unnecessary risks.

A Wide Variety of Drivers and Styles
A 20-year-old who wants to party and a 70-year-old who wants to enjoy retirement both find this town attractive. Las Vegas has higher numbers of residents in these two age groups than most American cities of similar size. Not only does this mean that Las Vegas drivers have widely different levels of experience, their lifestyles are often in conflict. This often plays out on the roadways in the form of accidents. If held up by a bus in the far right lane for example, the conservative senior citizen making a safe lane change usually has an inability to avoid the young driver that quickly changes lanes and try to “zip” around them.

Drivers are channeled to major roads with higher speed limits. Conservative drivers who want to cruise at 35 miles per hour will find it difficult. Eventually they’ll have to cruise larger thoroughfares, driving with people speeding at 60 mph even though the limit is 45. It’s an obvious recipe for collisions. I sometimes wonder if city planners think about this.

Party Town
Las Vegas is a 24-hour town. While intoxicated drivers hit the street in every city, in most places this happens during certain, fairly predictable times. Intoxicated drivers are always on Las Vegas streets. Add in fatigued drivers during morning rush hour, tired partygoers, and “graveyard” workers on their way home, and it’s easy to understand why impairment is such a problem on Las Vegas streets.

Now that we’ve talked about dilemmas, let’s discuss solutions.

– Scan, scan, and scan. At the risk of sounding like an annoying driver’s Ed teacher, I recommend that you check your mirrors and blind spots often. You have a much better chance to avoid poor drivers if you can see them.

The more you check, the more you'll see. <em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>
The more you check, the more you'll see.
Photo by John Robert Taylor

– Can they see you? Many accident investigations indicate that a vehicle was positioned in the blind spot of another. Semi-trucks for example often back into vehicles that are sitting too close. What the driver can see, they are far less likely to hit.

– Watch for Pedestrians. School begins on August 24th. The amount of pedestrian traffic will increase exponentially. Fight the urge to look for pedestrians only at intersections. Scan for them everywhere.

Pedestrians pop up anywhere. <em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>
Pedestrians pop up anywhere.
Photo by John Robert Taylor

– Make Your Intentions Known. My friend never uses his turn signal, claiming other drivers will not let you switch lanes when they see it. He said, “ I’d rather surprise em’ and just bounce over there.” Surprising drivers with a 4000-pound vehicle is a bad idea.

A motorcyclist changes lanes without signaling. <em>Photo by John Robert Taylor</em>
A motorcyclist changes lanes without signaling. Photo by John Robert Taylor

– Brake quick, stop quick. Most drivers brake at two or three car lengths. I recommend easing onto that horizontal pedal at six to eight lengths. Many accidents involve tailgating and too-short stopping distances.

– Stay alert, stay safe. Many jurisdictions have outlawed the use of cellular phones while driving. All too often, an “at fault” driver is found guilty of T.W.D. (texting while driving), a charge proven when a cell phone with an incomplete text message is found on the vehicle’s floorboard. You should purchase a hand-free device and refrain from texting while driving. Also, pull over to grab some caffeine or fresh air if you’re tired.

Unique characteristics of Las Vegas interfere with stopping distances, impair vision, place more impaired or negligent drivers on the street during peak hours, and force drivers with vast differences in lifestyle and experience, to mingle on roadways. The odds are against us as Las Vegas drivers, so take steps to change them in your favor.

COMING NEXT WEEK: “The Invisible Thief – 4 tips to stop Identity Theft”


11 responses on “Calling All Cars! – Theories on Sin City Traffic Safety

  1. Excellent points and great illustrative photos, some really useful ideas and tips herein.

  2. Great article! I had never thought about the problems that arise with different kinds, ages, and styles of drivers being on the roads. The issue of impairment is definitely a bigger problem here than in other cities. I was somewhat surprised at how high insurance rates are here until I had lived here for a while and seen how many accidents there are. I’ve definitely become a far more defensive driver, and I appreciate your observations and tips. Great photos, too.

  3. Excellent reminders even for “experienced” drivers from the car mecca of Los Angeles. I think you’re absolutely right, our melting pot of drivers is really to blame for the elevated dangers on our roads.

    With that thought in mind, one thing I would add to your list is: look at license plates and yes, make snap judgments about what you see. Drivers from small metropolitan area states like Montana, Alabama, Oklahoma, etc. need to be given a wide berth. They tend to do really stupid things like travel on the inside lane then slow to 40 mph to swerve across four lanes of traffic to make an exit.

    Plus, this is first and foremost a tourist town. Out-of-state drivers are often lost. I’ve learned not to expect too much from them and just give them extra room on the highways and city streets.

    Re: pedestrians, Las Vegas has to be the holy city of stupid pedestrians. I have never seen so many people look a driver straight in the eye and step in front of a moving car! One super power I’ve always wanted to have is the ability to instantly teleport these fools to the streets of Manhattan for one week. It would be a life lesson for them and if they survived, they would never step in front of a moving car again.

    I’d called it the Manhattan Pedestrian Academy and it would literally be a “boot camp” for anyone who wanted to get a driver’s license.

    Ahh, super powers … wherefore art thou, oh super powers?

  4. It’s nice to see an explanation for issues here that doesn’t start and finish at “California Drivers” (who must be the best drivers in the world, because otherwise, they’d all be dead!).

    I agree that it is the mix of driving styles that most greatly contributes to issues here.

    That said, however, in general, I think drivers here are better than in Colorado. I really don’t mind driving around here. But then, I like to go fast…

  5. Oh – and your friend who doesn’t use his turn signals deserves to have his car shot with the “Traffic Tzar Paint Gun” I am going to invent someday.

    It will be conveniently mounted behind a remotely openable headlight, allowing the retractable gun to emerge, aim, and release a pellet of unremovable paint toward an offending vehicle. The paint gun will then retreat behind the headlight, to avoid detection and likely but unwarranted road rage altercations.

    Paint colors will be coded for different offenses, (hot pink for no turn signal use), so other drivers will henceforth be warned of the stupid behavior likely to emerge from the target vehicle.

    It will make me a bazillionaire.

  6. Thanks for the comments, they’re hilarious! I really like Tami’s paint gun idea. It would be nice if bad drivers could wear their shame for the rest of us to see.

  7. Eric James MIller: “…Re: pedestrians, Las Vegas has to be the holy city of stupid pedestrians. I have never seen so many people look a driver straight in the eye and step in front of a moving car! One super power I’ve always wanted to have is the ability to instantly teleport these fools to the streets of Manhattan for one week. It would be a life lesson for them and if they survived, they would never step in front of a moving car again….”

    Eric, have you ever ridden a CAT bus here in this city? If you had, you’d have a much keener appreciation for what it takes to ride and catch buses in this berg and you’d know that if you wanted to catch a cross-town bus, you almost never have time to walk to the corner of the street, use the cross-walk, and cross with the light. Nope, anyone who has any sense will always side on the side of whatever it takes to catch the next bus and that ALWAYS means stepping off the curb into oncoming traffic and weaving through the cars to reach the other side in time to catch the bus.

    I’ve done it many times, perhaps scores of times, and I figure that’s why cars have brakes…. Comparing Las Vegas pedestrians with Manhattan pedestrians is akin to comparing hiking in Colorado to hiking on the moon -Different planet — different world.

    This is one of the toughest cities to be a pedestrian — much, much tougher than be a car driver…. Cut them some slack — until you’ve walked a few miles in their shoes!


  8. So people with sense step in front of moving cars? Anybody who grew up in or ever lived in a major metropolitan city would probably disagree. But, apologies to pedestrians with perfectly sound reasoning for stepping in front of a moving vehicle. Vegas indeed is a different world.

    (Maybe pedestrians should have to wear license plates, too :- )

  9. John, I especially appreciate your advice about keeping more than two or three car lengths back from the car in front. Some references cite the “two-second rule,” that is, you should follow no closer than the time it takes to pass the same point two seconds after the car in front passes it. This does compensate for driving at different speeds, at least; but I think two seconds is too short, and three or four seconds would be better.

  10. I’m glad that some partners of the community care. Thank you for doing your part to spread public safety. If more people were educated and followed your advice, there would be a lesser need for police and lawyers.

    May I ad your page to my links page on my website?

  11. Michael I agree. The more time a driver has to notice the need to stop, react, and apply the brakes, the better. Especially with the other factors mentioned above they’ll need more time to realized the need to stop. I think a majority of drivers involved in collisions would have benefited from more reaction time.

    Anthony, thanks for visiting the site! You’re right, more people practicing personal safety would definitely decrease the need for professions like yours and mine. I’ve always thought that was very ironic. Have you? There are very few people who have professions in which the only objective is to reduce the very thing that provides them with job security, but when you take a good look at that’s what we do. Weird huh? Sure, linking to my page would be great! Thanks again.

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