Distracted driving accidents prompt legislation in Nevada
RENO (AP) – A rising number of accidents caused by distracted drivers has spawned a push by state lawmakers and police to change some traffic laws.
Several members of the state Assembly, one state senator and the Nevada Office of Public Safety have all submitted requests to change state laws, the Reno-Gazette Journal reported Sunday.
In Washoe County, at least four people were injured in crashes over the past five years because drivers were putting on makeup. The data shows dozens more were hurt when drivers lost control while fiddling with a CD player or radio and 11 were hurt because a driver was reading.
Otther incidents involved cell phone talking or texting – activities police say have had the most significant impact on the county’s rising accident rates.
State transportation data from attributed 26 Washoe County crashes to cell phone use in 2005. In 2009, the number jumped to 43.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said she’ll propose legislation to prohibit texting while driving.
“It’s the logical thing to do,” said Smith, who is working with three other lawmakers. “I think with all the stories you hear about distracted driving, we just need to do it.”
Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, has also filed a bill draft to restrict the use of cell phones while driving. Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, will sponsor leglislation to prohibit minors from using their phones while driving for the second time. A similar bill failed to pass in 2009.
The Nevada Department of Public Safety has enacted a policy banning its employees from texting while on the job. The directive followed an October 2009 executive order from President Obama, which prohibits four million federal employees from tapping out messages while driving, said Traci Pearl, a traffic safety coordinator.
Nevada’s public safety agnecy has since filed a bill draft request in the hopes that Nevada would join 30 other states that have made texting while driving illegal, Pearl said. Twelve of those laws were enacted in 2010 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Eight states passed laws that prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.
Nevada public safety officials are getting help with drafting a bill proposal from the federal transportation department, Pearl said.
The goal of a new law would be to prevent crashes by drivers who are focusing on a key pad instead of the road. Law enforcement, fire agencies and emergency medical services that are texting as part of their official duties would be exempt, as would drivers reporting emergencies, according to the federal proposals.
The measure also would not punish those who recieve texts about emergencies, traffic or weather alerts.
Penalties would start with a fine for the first offense, and increase with subsequent stops, according to the measure.
In the past, not all Nevada lawmakers believed that changes were needed.
In a 2009 debate over a bill to ban texting, questions were raised about how the law would be fairly enforced and about the possibility for increases in dangerous or illegal stops on roadways by drivers pulling over to take or make calls.