Can You Hear Me Now?

Legislators plan to try—again— to limit cell phone use while driving

It’s time to put an end to pushing “send” when your hands should be on the wheel, lawmakers say. Plans are in the works to create bills for the 2011 legislative session targeting cell phone use while driving, including bills by state Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, and Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas. But is Nevada really ready for such a law?

Full Attention to Driving

Although there’s no law against using cell phones while driving in Nevada, Metropolitan Police officers do issue citations to people driving erratically (because of cell phones or other reasons) within the city and county, citing them for failure to pay full attention to driving. Of the 1,739 collisions in which “failure to pay full attention” was a factor in 2009, police listed the following distractions:

  • 949 were for “other”
  • 388 were unknown
  • 174 were for cell phones
  • 65 were for children
  • 57 were for radio/CD player
  • 28 were for electronic equipment
  • 27 were for eating
  • 17 were for reading
  • 15 were for animals
  • 10 were for smoking
  • 9 were for personal hygiene

Currently, six states and the Virgin Islands prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving; and 25 states, Washington, D.C. and Guam ban text messaging for drivers.

The Metropolitan Police Department also supports a ban on texting while driving.

“We would like to have a law passed where texting is against the law,” says Capt. Richard Collins of Metro’s Department of Public Safety. “As far as a no-phone zone, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get that, as far as the law goes. But people need to pay attention to what they’re doing when they’re driving.”

That may be easier said than done. The only law Nevada has on the books regarding cell phones and driving is one passed in 2003 prohibiting local governments from regulating cell phones in automobiles.

Still, while there’s no explicit law relating to cell phones and driving, Collins says Metro regularly issues citations to distracted cell phone users under the “Full Attention to Driving” law.

Out of 134,148 total traffic citations in 2009, 3,856 were issued for motorists failing to pay full attention to driving, the reason also cited in 1,739 collisions.

“I think everybody is aware that if you’re doing something and not putting all of your focus on driving, then things can happen,” Collins says.

Manendo is certainly aware of it. For the past two legislative sessions he has tried to get a law passed targeting juveniles using electronic devices while driving, including cell phones and video games. Twice it’s failed, but he’s not deterred. If elected to the state Senate, he says he plans to bring it up again in 2011.

“We have data from other states that shows juveniles are more likely to get into crashes or get killed behind the wheel [while texting or using some kind of handheld device] than somebody who’s in their 40s, because they just lack the experience,” Manendo says.

He thinks that a law aimed at minors will help spread awareness about the dangers of texting while driving.

“I’m just absolutely convinced you have to change attitudes early on in life,” Manendo says. “If you have teens that know in advance it’s against the law … then I’m hoping they’ll be less likely to do that later on.”

Breeden is taking a heavier-handed approach. She sponsored a bill in 2009 that would prohibit texting while driving for people of any age. The bill made it through the Senate but died in the Assembly.

Breeden says she’s working on a more restrictive bill requiring cell phone users to implement hands-free devices while driving.

“We’ve got to keep our roads safe,” she says. “I’m going to try it again, and hopefully the Assembly folks will understand just how important of an issue it is.”