The number of Nevada traffic deaths jumped by nearly 25 percent in the first quarter of 2012 when compared with the same period last year, according to figures from state public safety officials.
From January through March, 57 people died in Nevada traffic accidents, 11 more than last year.
“It really is disappointing,” said Meg Ragonese with the Nevada Department of Transportation. “The state’s overall traffic safety goal is zero fatalities.”
The report said 12 pedestrians died in the first quarter, double the number from the same time last year. Nine pedestrians killed were in Clark County, the state’s most populous.
The 45 total fatalities in Clark County for the first three months of the year also were up significantly, from 27 in 2011.
Elsewhere, there were three deaths each through March in Elko and Nye counties, two in Washoe and one each in Douglas, Humboldt, Lander and Mineral.
The rise in traffic deaths startled state officials and comes despite a new concerted campaign emphasizing traffic safety and a new law making it illegal to text or talk on a hand-held cellphone while driving. That law to crack down on distracted driving took effect Oct. 1, 2011, but penalties did not kick in until Jan. 1, 2012.
Nevada’s “zero fatalities” campaign evolved after a record 432 traffic deaths in 2006. In 2011, road fatalities dropped to 246.
But Ragonese said there’s no one obvious cause for this year’s increase.
“Honestly, we just don’t know,” she said.
Ragonese said there could be myriad factors, such as the economy or the weather.
She theorized people who lost their jobs in the Great Recession may have found new employment requiring them to commute longer distances to work, making them more vulnerable to traffic crashes.
A mild winter may also be partly to blame.
Warmer weather and an early spring that seemed to begin months earlier than normal may have brought more people out on the roads than there would have been during a typical winter of ice and snow, she said.
“There’s no way to pinpoint exactly what it might be,” Ragonese said.
Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation, said while the state is striving to make roads safer, the “traffic safety ultimately relies on each and every driver.”