Senate panel votes to ban cell phone use while driving

CARSON CITY -- A Senate panel voted 5-2 Thursday to ban talking or texting on a cell phone while driving.

Members approved Sen. Shirley Breeden's Senate Bill 140, which would set fines for drivers caught using cell phones or texting at $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, and Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, voted against the bill. Both said current law allowing police to cite drivers for unsafe and inattentive driving is broad enough to cover cell phones problems.

The bill goes to the full Senate for a vote. Several anti-cell phone and texting bills are under consideration in the Assembly .

During the debate Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said he normally would have voted with Halseth and Rhoads.

"But when I go home on weekends and talk with people, this is the one bill they want passed," he said.

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said testimony suggested that texting was as dangerous as drunken driving.

"When I drive down Flamingo (Road), I see people constantly texting," he added. "Parents are telling kids they can't text, but it now is not against the law."

Thirty states outlaw texting by all drivers. Eight more prohibit texting by minors. Eight states, including California, prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones. Hands-free devices are allowed.

During the debate, Rhoads said driving while eating a hamburger or drinking a Coke also is dangerous. Such eating habits, with using a cell phone and texting, already are covered by the state's inattentive-driving law, he said.

But Chuck Callaway, a Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist, said drivers usually are cited for inattentive driving after an accident. He said passage of SB140 could reduce the number of accidents.

"Under this bill, you could pull them over and cite them even if they are driving safely?" Rhoads asked.

Callaway said they could, but added it is a fact that texting and using a cell phone can lead to accidents.