In Nevada, ‘It’s mom and dad’ using the cell phone while driving
Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety has some numbers that may make you rethink the assumptions about who’s most guilty of being on their cellphone while driving.
Asked who the violators are, a common response is teenaged girls who many — especially parents — believe are on their phones 24/7 whether driving or not.
But statistics collected by the Office of Traffic Safety don’t support that assumption at all. In fact, the largest single group of violators were men over the age of 21 who have been issued 32,056 tickets since the cellphone law went into effect in 2011.
That’s more than half the total 60,862 citations issued statewide and nearly 7,000 more than the 25,434 issued to women over age 21.
In contrast, just 1,698 citations were issued statewide to teenaged girls over that five-year period — a hair under 3 percent of the total.
Teenaged boys got cited about the same number of times compared to teenage girls — 1,667. But when those teen citations are added together, the young drivers are responsible for only 5½ percent of all citations.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 80,346 drivers under the age of 21 licensed in Nevada as of July 2016. That’s just under 5 percent of the 1.87 million licensees so teen drivers are getting citations at about the same rate as everyone else. But their citation numbers are still far lower than most people assumed.
“It’s mom and dad,” said NHP spokesman Trooper Dan Gordon.
The cellphone law prohibits the use of a handheld device while driving. The penalties are progressive: $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second plus a couple of points off the record.
Those fines, incidentally, don’t include the administrative assessments that more than double the cost.
The big penalty comes for a third offense in seven years in addition to a $200 fine, the driver’s license is suspended for six months. Gordon pointed out that’s double the 90 day suspension for a first time DUI.
The law does allow the use of hands-free phone systems such as built in Bluetooth now available in most new vehicles.
For most Nevada counties, the proportion of cell citations was pretty much in line with their share of the state’s population.
But Kurt Davis, traffic records program manager at the Office of Traffic Safety, said some data is incomplete because it has taken several years to get all the major law enforcement agencies into the computerized reporting system for citations, accidents and other events. He said Reno PD is just now testing the system and getting ready to go live while Henderson PD is still working on joining in.
He said there are still several small agencies like Nevada State Parks, Pershing County and Lovelock that aren’t on the system either. But Davis said Reno and Henderson are the final two major agencies not yet on.
When those two agencies start reporting traffic citation data, Washoe and Clark numbers can be expected to increase. Washoe, for example, reported 11,636 citations issued, 900 to teen drivers markedly. Those numbers are obviously artificially low right now.
In Carson City, a total of 2,882 cellphone citations have been issued in the past five years, 205 of them to teens. There were 3,030 issued in Douglas County, but just 107 to teenagers. Lyon County reported 1,022 citations, 57 to those under age 21.
Storey County, however, reported only one citation issued to a female driver over age 21 in all five years. Davis said that was probably written by an NHP trooper or Washoe Sheriff’s deputy since Storey isn’t in the reporting system either.
Gordon said one of the most common misconceptions he has seen is drivers putting the phone on speaker and holding it in front of their face.
“It’s not a ‘having the phone up to the ear’ law,” he said. “Holding it six inches away from your mouth in your hand on speaker is not acceptable.”
Gordon said at this point, NHP can’t say how many accidents involved cellphone use because it’s all lumped together under the heading of distracted driving, which also includes sleepy drivers and any number of other distractions like eating while driving.
He said most annoying is when he stops a driver for illegal cellphone use and finds the car is capable of hands-free Bluetooth operation.
“It’s laziness, really,” he said. “They won’t take five minutes to set it up and now they have a $150 ticket.”
He said even with Bluetooth in the vehicle, “studies have shown if you’re in a conversation, just being involved in that conversation your head is elsewhere.” He said driving becomes secondary, “not the smartest thing to do when driving a car.”
He said especially with teens, “the big issue is other distractions.”
“The problem with teenagers is friends in the car,” Gordon said.