A divided legislative panel voted Tuesday for four traffic-related laws, including a proposal allowing Nevada police to pull over drivers not wearing their seat belts and a bill legalizing the use of cameras to catch red-light runners.
SB42, the seat belt bill approved by the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, would make Nevada the 27th state to make failure to wear a seat belt a "primary offense," meaning that police could pull over drivers who aren't committing any other violation.
Lawmakers opposing the bill included Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, who said that Nevada's current rate of seat belt usage, estimated by authorities at just over 90 percent, was as high as the state could hope for.
"You've got a small percentage of the folks not doing it, and whether you write them a ticket or not, I don't think it's going to make a difference," said Carlton. "Just to get some money from the federal government, and just to go after that last seven to eight percent - I don't see the need for this."
Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, the committee chairman, questioned the statistics and said seat belts would save lives. He was backed by Sen. Joseph Heck, R-Henderson, who said that as a doctor he had seen the gruesome injuries of car accident victims who weren't wearing seat belts.
"Ronald Reagan said, 'I don't believe in government that protects us from ourselves,'" Heck added. "But sometimes the greater public policy and the greater public good has to take precedent."
Sens. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, joined with Carlton in opposing the bill. Amodei said Nevada could pursue strategies to improve seat belt wearing that don't involve law enforcement. He also said he was dismayed that insurance companies wouldn't promise lower rates if the law was passed.
Supporters of SB61, which allows cities to install traffic cameras to catch red-light runners, were convinced that the cameras would lead to safer intersections and less deadly collisions.
But Amodei, joined by Carlton, opposed SB61, saying he was bothered that the bill puts the onus of proving innocence on the accused driver.
The bill was amended to mandate photographing drivers' faces instead of just a car's license plate. Other amendments ensure that camera-enforced intersections will be clearly marked, and that no contractors processing tickets will get paid based on the number of citations issued. Opponents had accused the bill's supporters of only wanting to get more money to the government.
Nolan said that support for the cameras from law enforcement was much stronger than in years past, when some agencies opposed allowing red-light cameras. With the amendments, he said the bills would make Nevada a safer place.
"This is the first time this bill has come up where almost every police chief came to the table and talked about their need," said Nolan.
The committee also voted 6-1 for SB58, which would add a $5 fee to all traffic citations to pay for emergency services. Carlton voted no, saying the cause is worthwhile but the fee is the wrong way to fund it.
Also endorsed was SB62, which would lower the number of required license plates from two on the front and rear of a vehicle to one on the rear.