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.
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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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”