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After deadly Nevada crash, federal investigators want cars to warn drivers if they're speeding

DETROIT (AP) — Federal accident investigators want automakers to install systems on all new vehicles that warn drivers when they go over the speed limit, and it is asking regulators to figure out how states can electronically limit speeds on vehicles driven by repeat traffic offenders.

The National Transportation Safety Board's recommendations to combat excessive speeding came after a hearing Tuesday on a January 2022 crash in North Las Vegas, Nevada. In that crash, the driver of a Dodge Challenger with a long record of speeding ran a red light at 103 miles per hour (166 kilometers per hour) and slammed into a minivan, killing himself and eight others.

The board, which can only make recommendations and has no regulatory authority, determined that the Challenger driver's excessive speed and failure to obey a stop sign and red light caused the crash. His impairment from cocaine and PCP contributed. But it also found that the state of Nevada failed to seriously punish the driver after he was charged with five speeding violations in the 17 months before the crash.

Some of the violations were reduced to parking tickets in plea bargains, and neighboring courts were unaware of the string of driving problems in other courts, the board said.

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From 1992 to 2017, the driver was convicted of 11 traffic violations including three speeding violations. Yet at the time of the crash, his official state driving record had only one moving violation listed, for speeding in 2017, the NTSB said.

“The state of Nevada must do better about removing the silos of adjacent courts and sharing information,” board member Michael Graham said. “The state of Nevada failed to hold the driver accountable.”

NTSB staff members said the problem of one court not knowing what another has done with a repeat traffic violator happens in other states as well. They said that unless court data is distributed widely, it will be hard to impose punishment.

Also, the Nevada Legislature in 2021 decriminalized traffic offenses including speeding less than 30 mph (48 kph) over the limit, making tickets a civil offense and lifting the possibility of jail time for unpaid fines. Serious offenses including 30 mph above the limit and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol remain criminal offenses.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson in Las Vegas and aides to Nevada state Attorney General Aaron Ford did not immediately respond to messages about 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 to develop guidelines to help states test speed-limiting devices on vehicles owned by repeat offenders.

NHTSA will be asked to require as standard equipment on all new vehicles “intelligent speed assistance systems” that use cameras and mapping to determine the speed limit and at minimum, warn drivers when they go over it. The board also discussed pushing states to install active systems that make it harder for a repeat offender to speed, or limit speeding altogether.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing automakers, said technology can play a role in reducing speed-related crashes, but the group has long backed policies focusing on education, enforcement and infrastructure investment.

NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy expressed frustration that prior recommendations that NHTSA include speed limit warnings in its new car ratings have gone unheeded. Adding the warnings to features outlined in NHTSA's “New Car Assessment Program” would prod automakers to install the features to compete over safety, Homendy said.

“We're sick of not seeing action by NHTSA,” she said in an interview.

She said speeding accounts for one third of the roughly 43,000 U.S. traffic deaths each year. As recently as last week, speeding was a factor in a Texas crash in which eight people died, Homendy said.

In a statement, a NHTSA spokeswoman said the safety agency welcomes NTSB input and carefully reviews it. In March of last year the agency sought public comment on updates to the new vehicle ratings, including whether speed limiters or warnings should be added. The agency, she said, is reviewing comments and is developing a regulation.

The NTSB also asked the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to study the impact of automotive marketing ads that the board said encourage speeding. Homendy cited 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 killed the 59-year-old driver with a history of traffic and criminal offenses and his 46-year-old male passenger in the Challenger that investigators found accelerated before it ran a red light and slammed into the minivan.

Three other vehicles were damaged in chain-reaction crashes at the busy multi-lane crossroads. In all, 15 people were involved.

The seven dead family members ranged in age from 5 to 35 years old and lived in North Las Vegas.

An autopsy found the driver who caused the crash, Gary Dean Robinson of North Las Vegas, had levels of cocaine and PCP in his system above levels at which Nevada law says a driver is presumed to be intoxicated. Records showed he had a yearslong history of traffic and criminal offenses, including speeding, and served time in state prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to felony cocaine possession and violating probation.

Just days before the crash, Robinson pleaded guilty in Las Vegas to speeding, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. He was fined $150.

___

Associated Press Writer Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.