No turning back: Police drive home point as state cellphone law nears
Since Oct. 1, Nevada Highway Patrol troopers in the northern command have issued more than 600 warnings to people talking on cellphones or texting while driving.
The southern command – Las Vegas – and eastern command – centered in Elko – didn’t keep records of warnings, but Nevada Highway Patrol Col. Bernie Curtis said southern command has probably issued “a couple thousand warnings.”
The law banning use of cellphones or texting takes effect in two stages. Law enforcement was allowed to stop and warn people beginning in October.
But the rules change in just two weeks – Jan. 1 – when NHP and other law enforcement agencies will begin ticketing people who use cellphones while driving.
The law allows use of a hands-free device such as Bluetooth while driving. Texting, however, is completely banned.
Trooper Chuck Allen, public information officer for NHP’s northern command, said the first offense will be a $50 fine plus court fees – a total of about $90. Allen said since the law is designed to change behavior a first offense isn’t considered a moving violation.
That changes for the second offense when the fine is $100 and it is a moving violation that could hit drivers for up to four of their 12 license points. Subsequent violations within seven years will cost up to $250 in fines – plus fees – and four points.
Those lost points have another serious implication: higher insurance rates.
Curtis said NHP intends to aggressively enforce the law because a large percentage of accidents are caused by distracted drivers involving cellphones.
“Distracted driving causes accidents,” he said.
Curtis’ boss, Chris Perry, director of the Department of Public Safety, echoed those sentiments by saying drivers would be better off just putting the phone away while driving. He also warned against stopping along the side to take or make a call, saying that’s not a safe place to be.
When the program was rolled out, Carson City Undersheriff Steve Albertsen said simply, “It’s about time.”
“Nothing is that important that you can’t stop,” he said.
Albertsen said his deputies also have been giving warnings but their dispatch system doesn’t keep records of how many.
Allen said what he has been seeing since the warning period began is also disturbing.
“A lot of people are taking advantage of reading or texting while they are stalled in traffic,” he said. “Maybe they feel because they’re not physically driving a car, they’re not breaking any laws. It’s against the law when you’re in a traffic lane with the car in gear.”
He said the law requires a driver to pull out of traffic to use the phone.
Capitol Police Chief Jay Logue said he watched a woman texting next to him. When the light turned green for the turn lane to her left, she reflexively jumped the car forward, stomping the brake when she realized her light wasn’t green yet.
Perry said about 20,000 accidents on Nevada roads have been blamed on distracted driving. He said about 50 people have died in the past five years because of it.
The law takes effect during what law enforcement regards as one of their busiest and most dangerous periods of the year: the Christmas/New Year’s holidays. Allen said cell use isn’t the only thing on troopers’ agendas. In fact, the season’s first DUI checkpoint took place Saturday in the neighborhood around the University of Nevada, Reno.
He said it won’t be the last of the season.