Compiling lists is a popular way for special-interest groups to generate publicity. Putting together a “Best Of” or “Worst Of” in virtually any category is a tried-and-true method of attracting attention.
Last week, a federal lobbying organization known as the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released its annual report card intended to pressure states into passing additional laws to curb traffic deaths. Nevada was among seven states that received a “red” ranking, the lowest level on a traffic-light scale that also included “green” and “yellow.”
The group arrived at its conclusions by analyzing five categories — occupant protection, child passenger safety, teen driving, impaired driving and distracted driving. States were graded on how many of 16 laws they have enacted that the AHAS deems necessary to improving safety on the roads.
In Nevada’s case, the state was sent to the principal’s office for not having a primary seat belt statute on the books and for failing to pass a half-dozen specific restrictions on teen drivers.
The group is, no doubt, sincere in seeking to reduce traffic deaths, which have been climbing nationally for a few years after decades of decline. As anyone who spends even a modest amount of time behind the wheel can attest, the ubiquitous use of electronic devices has only increased driving risks. Laws that punish motorists for paying closer attention to their smartphones than to the road ahead of them deserve support.
But it’s curious that the AHAS rankings don’t consider the most important statistic: state highway deaths.
One death is too many, of course, but 2018 statistics compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety put Nevada in a much better light. Far from being a bottom-dweller, Nevada is in the top half of states when it comes to traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents. It ranks 29th in terms of fatalities per 100 million miles traveled.
In addition, the state is tied for the 13th-best seat belt compliance rate — 92 percent — of all states, despite its secondary seat belt law.
Meanwhile, two states to which the AHAS awarded “green” ratings — Oregon and Louisiana — have much higher traffic fatality rates, in terms of both population and miles driven, than Nevada.
Nevada has room for improvement, no doubt, as evidenced by a recent spate of high-profile wrong-way driving deaths on Southern Nevada highways. And many Las Vegas drivers have a frustrating penchant for treating various traffic laws as optional. But the “red” rating from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety paints an inaccurately alarmist picture of the safety of Nevada roadways.