Public works, police advocate education and enforcement around traffic safety in Nevada County |

Public works, police advocate education and enforcement around traffic safety in Nevada County

Over the past year, Nevada County’s Department of Public Works has developed an ambitious goal.

Through its public forums, and gathering data on traffic, the department has a new goal of reaching zero traffic deaths each year. The department was eager to take up this hard-to-reach goal as it notes on its flier that “more than 75 percent of all roads are maintained by local agencies.”

Of course, the public agency is well aware of the lethality that driving poses. Each year, more than 32,000 fatalities occur from car crashes, according to the Center for Disease Control. This makes car accidents one of the leading killers of unintentional deaths in the U.S. for people under the age of 50.

The concern is not lost on Trisha Tillotson, director of public works for Nevada County, and Grass Valley California Highway Patrol officers who convened at the Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to talk road safety.

Cause of Accidents

The main reasons for collisions in Nevada County are due to improper turning, unsafe driving speeds, and driving under the influence, according to Tillotson. Most collisions include hitting objects (particularly animals), rear ends and broadsides. About 65 percent of accidents occur during the day, and the vast majority of accidents take place in the most densely driven areas of western Nevada County.

Many believe poor weather conditions are a major cause of accidents, but that’s not the case according to CHP Public Information Officer Michael Steele.

“Clear weather means higher speeds means they have to get there quicker,” said Steele at the meeting.

Steele highlighted distracted driving as one of the most salient factors for car accidents. Mostly, he was referring to the use of cell phones — even hands-free blue tooth — while driving. However, the officer added that distracted driving is not a new problem, but has been plaguing drivers since humans began getting behind the wheel.

“Distracted driving is also eating, drinking — everyday items can be a distraction,” he said. Even passengers and loud music distract drivers, he added, from what should be a driver’s only focus.

The two CHP officers at the meeting noted that while driving high on marijuana was probably an issue, it is certainly not a new one nor is there any way for the police department to detect if an accident is caused by marijuana intoxication.

By the Numbers

There were 323 injuries documented from collisions in the 2015 to 2016 fiscal year, according to Grass Valley CHP Lieutenant George Steffenson. Fatalities, while much less prevalent, have been rising over the past few years. In 2016, 2017, and 2018 there have been eight, 10, and 20 fatalities, respectively, due to car crashes.

Most collisions occur at Rough and Read Highway, Highway 49, and Highway 174, according to the CHP officers. Due to a high volume of cars on the road, between 2014 and 2016 the majority of collisions occurred during rush hour traffic after 5 p.m.

On the other hand, the number of estimated collisions is unofficially down 25 percent in the county, the officers said. This number, however, cannot be confirmed until about another year, according to Steele.

Education and Enforcement

With the help of a one-year grant from the Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Grass Valley CHP has been able to ramp up enforcement and education of traffic safety. The former of the two particularly influence cars to slow down.

“When you see a black and white, or sheriff vehicle, that’s when people slow down,” said Steffenson.

The department of public works, for their part, advocated for increased education and enforcement, as well as improved and maintained road infrastructure.

In order to reduce road accidents, Steele wants drivers to reduce distracted driving at all costs. For him, that doesn’t just mean turning off your phone. It also means establishing proper driving etiquette.

“You keep (distraction) isolated to the passengers,” he said. “Don’t engage that driver.”

Steele urges folks to take ride shares, carpool, even simply drive less. The more cars on the road, he said, the more accidents. It’s a simple numbers game. In order to keep those numbers down, Steele would like to continue explaining traffic safety.

You can contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or by email at

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