DETROIT — Federal accident investigators are urging automakers to install systems on all new vehicles that alert drivers when they exceed the speed limit. They are also calling on regulators to explore how states can electronically restrict speeds on vehicles operated by habitual traffic offenders.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations to address excessive speeding were prompted by an inquiry into a January 2022 crash in North Las Vegas, Nevada. The crash occurred when the driver of a Dodge Challenger, who had a lengthy history of speeding, ran a red light at 103 miles per hour (166 kilometers per hour) and collided with a minivan, causing his and eight other deaths.
The board determined that the excessive speed and failure to adhere to traffic signals were the primary causes of the crash. The driver’s impairment from cocaine and PCP also contributed to the accident. However, the board also found that Nevada did not adequately penalize the driver after he received five speeding citations in the 17 months leading up to the crash.
Several of the citations were reduced to parking tickets as part of plea bargains, and neighboring courts were unaware of the driver’s series of driving infractions in other jurisdictions, according to the board.
Between 1992 and 2017, the driver was convicted of 11 traffic violations, including three speeding violations. However, at the time of the accident, his official driving record with the state only listed one moving violation for speeding in 2017, the NTSB reported.
“The state of Nevada needs to improve its coordination among different courts and share information,” board member Michael Graham remarked. “The state of Nevada failed to hold the driver accountable.”
NTSB staff members noted that the issue of one court being unaware of another court’s actions with a repeat traffic offender is prevalent in other states as well. They explained that without widespread dissemination of court data, imposing meaningful penalties will be challenging.
Furthermore, in 2021, the Nevada Legislature decriminalized traffic offenses, including speeding less than 30 mph (48 kph) over the limit, making such violations a civil offense and eliminating the possibility of incarceration for unpaid fines. However, serious offenses, such as driving 30 mph over the limit and DUI, remain criminal offenses.
Representatives of Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson in Las Vegas and aides to Nevada state Attorney General Aaron Ford did not immediately respond to requests for comments on the NTSB findings.
The NTSB also recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration develop measures to reduce the number of repeat speeding offenders and establish guidelines to assist states in testing speed-limiting devices on vehicles owned by habitual violators.
NHTSA will be urged to mandate “intelligent speed assistance systems” as standard features on all new vehicles. These systems use cameras and mapping to determine the speed limit and, at a minimum, alert drivers when they surpass it. The board also discussed the possibility of pushing states to install active systems that make it more challenging for repeat offenders to speed or limit speeding entirely.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing automakers, acknowledged that technology can contribute to reducing speed-related accidents. However, the group has long advocated for policies focused on education, enforcement, and infrastructure investment.
NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy expressed frustration over the lack of action by NHTSA to include speed limit warnings in its new car ratings. Homendy stated that incorporating these warnings into the features outlined in NHTSA’s “New Car Assessment Program” would motivate automakers to compete on safety grounds.
“We’re tired of not seeing action by NHTSA,” she commented in an interview.
She emphasized that speeding accounts for one-third of the approximately 43,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. each year. Homendy also noted that speeding was a contributing factor in a recent Texas crash where eight people perished.
In a statement, a NHTSA spokesperson stated that the agency welcomes input from NTSB and carefully evaluates it. In March of last year, the agency sought public feedback on updates to the new vehicle ratings, including the potential addition of speed limiters or warnings. The agency is currently reviewing comments and developing a regulation, she added.
The NTSB also urged the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to study the impact of automotive advertising that it claims promotes speeding. Homendy referred to a Dodge muscle car ad that she said emphasizes speed “and encourages drivers to never lift their foot off the gas pedal.”
The North Las Vegas crash on a weekend evening claimed the lives of the 59-year-old driver, who had a history of traffic and criminal offenses, and his 46-year-old male passenger in the Challenger, which investigators found accelerated before running a red light and colliding with the minivan.
Three other vehicles were involved in subsequent collisions at the busy multi-lane intersection. In total, 15 individuals were affected.
The seven deceased family members ranged in age from 5 to 35 years old and resided in North Las Vegas.
An autopsy revealed that the driver responsible for the crash, Gary Dean Robinson of North Las Vegas, had levels of cocaine and PCP in his system that exceeded the levels at which Nevada law presumes a driver to be under the influence. Records indicated that he had a lengthy history of traffic and criminal offenses, including speeding, and had previously served time in state prison after pleading guilty to felony cocaine possession and probation violation in 2004.
Days prior to the crash, Robinson pleaded guilty in Las Vegas to speeding and was fined $150, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
• Associated Press Writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.