UNLV researchers look to data in quest to make drivers more cautious, roads safer


Wade Vandervort

From left, co-investigator Laura Gryder and principal investigator Dr. Deborah Kuhls, MD pose for a photo Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

Thu, Apr 7, 2022 (2 a.m.)

For the past 21 years, Dr. Deborah Kuhls has worked as a trauma and critical care surgeon at University Medical Center, the only level-one adult trauma center and pediatric trauma center in Nevada.

It’s a job that has given her insight into an issue gripping Southern Nevada and the United States — traffic crashes and traffic-related injuries, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. for people ages 1 to 44, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 1981 to 2020.

Kuhls studies these crashes at UNLV’s Traffic Safety Research Group, where she co-investigates the issue with Laura Gryder and is supported by an assembly of other researchers. The group received a $437,101 grant last month from the Nevada Department of Public Safety to further study how traffic crashes can be prevented in Southern Nevada.

“You can’t appropriate solutions to these problems without knowing what the problems are,” Gryder said.

Data from 2019 to 2020 shows a sharp uptick in the number of unintentional injuries, which includes traffic accidents, from approximately 63,000 to about 80,200. From 2018 to 2019, the number had increased by 1,000.

The research group will use Nevada Department of Transportation crash data and statewide trauma center injury data to analyze crashes from the past 10 years. Studying this data is “vital” in finding concrete solutions to making the state’s drivers more cautious, said Amy Davey, director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Office of Traffic Safety.

“Slow down, always wear your seatbelt, never drive after using any type of impairing substance. We know, from our data, that speed, impairment, and lack of seatbelt use are top contributing factors to crashes in Clark County and across our state,” Davey said via email.

The data will also provide “a deeper understanding of risk-taking behaviors that contribute to vehicular-related deaths and injuries,” a news release from the UNLV medical school says.

The money is funded through federal grants from the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Department of Public Safety has a “longstanding partnership” with UNLV and NDOT, Davey said.

“Most of us go about our routine without giving much thought to one of the riskiest things we do each day,” Davey said via email. “Data research helps inform traffic safety professionals, from engineers to public transportation planners to traffic enforcement agencies to policy makers on issues in our communities.”

Kuhls has led the Traffic Safety Research Group for 10 years. Gryder and Kuhls often speak at the Nevada Legislature, sharing data they have uncovered and advocating for policy changes to strengthen protections for drivers.

A win for Kuhls was the passage of Nevada Assembly Bill 118, which changed the car seat requirements for children under the age of 6 and weighing 60 pounds or less. Prior to its passage in 2021, children in this group were required to be secured in car seats. The new law’s requirements still apply to children of the same age group but says that children less than 57 inches tall, regardless of how much they weigh, will be required to use a booster seat.

Under the new law, children under 2 will also be required to be seated in a rear-facing car seat in the back of the car.

“I think unless you have Nevada specific data, sometimes, people are wondering … does this apply to us totally or not?” Kuhls said. “I think (that data) really helps with the Legislature.”

Gryder said that by acquiring this data, researchers could “connect the dots where possible.”

“We’re able to push out data analyses, research papers, newsletters, public facing infographics and legislative factsheets and legislative sessions,” Gryder said. “That’s one of our most important jobs is educating our legislators.”

“The Office of Traffic Safety and Nevada State Police are actively engaged in providing information about traffic safety and policy recommendations based on best practices to State and local policymakers,” Davey said via email.

Back to top