2-step cellphone ban starts Saturday

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Jenifer Watkins says she lost two years of her life after she was hit by a driver who was using a cellphone.

"The last thing I remember is stopping," she said. "The next thing I remember is waking up days later, not knowing where I was."

The result was multiple surgeries to repair broken bones and damaged organs and two years of physical therapy to recover.

Department of Public Safety Director Chris Perry said some 50 people have died in the past five years in accidents attributed to distracted driving. He said 20,000 accidents on Nevada roads have been blamed on distracted drivers during that same period.

A law banning cellphone use by motorists, authored by Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Las Vegas, and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, takes effect in two stages:

- Beginning Saturday, law enforcement officers can stop and give a written warning to drivers they see using a phone or texting.

- Starting Jan. 1, officers will cite drivers for using their phone while driving, imposing fines of up to $250.

Hands-free headsets can still be legally used by drivers to make and receive calls. Texting is completely barred under the law.

But Perry said drivers would be better off just putting the phone away while driving. Perry also warned against stopping alongside the road to make or take a call, saying that's not a safe place to be. That's where Watkins was when the vehicle she was in was hit from behind by a driver on a cellphone.

"This law will save lives in Nevada," said Breeden.

"It's about time," said Carson Undersheriff Steve Albertson of the new law. "You see it every day, people on the phone. But what's worse is texting or reading their messages.

"Nothing is that important that you can't stop. There are already too many distractions out there."

Capt. Fred Thompson of the Henderson Police Department said his officers see "way too many" people on the phone or texting, and he believes the new law will give them the ability to do something about it.

J. Armando Avina, public information officer for the Washoe Sheriff's Department, said it's important for the public to get behind the new law and support law enforcement officers as they begin enforcing it.

"Now we're going to be able to cite," he said. "We hope we don't see it. We want people to start changing their patterns."

Sandoval said shortly after signing the law that he needed to get his wife, first lady Kathleen Sandoval, a headset.

"I did, and she's using it," he said Thursday, adding that he also bought one for his 16-year-old son.

"I can't speak and text at the same time, so I don't know how people can drive and text at the same time," said Sandoval.

David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the law gives Nevada one of the nation's toughest anti-cell/text laws in the nation. He said that in 2009 alone, 20 percent of the 1.5 million injury accidents in the nation were at least partly caused by distracted driving and that a large percentage of those involved cellphones.

The law does, however, contain several exceptions to the ban including for any person reporting to report an emergency, safety hazard or criminal activity. Law enforcement and other emergency personnel using a phone in the line of duty are also exempted from the ban, as are utility employees and contractors responding to an emergency.


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