Protecting the Life Zone

When 6-year-old Amelia Decker was struck and killed in a North Las Vegas crosswalk Oct. 21, the Valley’s attention turned to a chronic problem: The zones we create for pedestrians to safely cross the street are routinely ignored by drivers. In the wake of the tragedy, some called for crosswalks to be more clearly marked. Others called for educating drivers about their responsibilities.

“This is absolutely a cultural problem,” replied Sgt. Tim Bedwell, chief information officer for the North Las Vegas Police Department. “It’s a combination of a lack of knowledge, impatience and an overall sense of competitiveness between drivers in the Las Vegas Valley that makes this a very, very dangerous issue. We could put lights, signs and everything else on every single crosswalk, but it isn’t going to matter what we do if people do not stop.”

North Las Vegas has made progress in recent years on pedestrian safety—in 2007, there were seven pedestrian deaths; since 2009, there has been only one each year. Thanks to federal and state grants—which have increased markedly since 2008, reaching $161,000 this year—the city’s police department holds several pedestrian safety events each year. Police officers in plain clothing attempt to cross the street, waving to drivers as they go. Drivers who fail to stop are cited. If vehicles are stopped in one lane, but someone continues on in the next lane—the circumstance that killed Decker—that driver is cited, as well. During a pedestrian safety event on Aug. 30, 126 people were cited for failure to yield.

“Our department feels the increase in grant money is the primary reason for our increased success in pedestrian safety,” Bedwell says.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department does not have a specific pedestrian safety program, but Henderson’s police hold events similar to those in North Las Vegas, focusing on crosswalks that have drawn concern from residents. Pedestrian fatalities in Henderson have held steady at one to two per year for the past three years, says department spokesman Keith Paul.

Even as police work to increase driver awareness, it’s crucial for pedestrians to remember that even when the car closest to the crosswalk stops, the one in the next lane may fail to do so. “Never attempt to cross,” Paul says, “unless there is absolutely no question that all vehicles are coming to a complete stop.”