Legislature Got Tied Up In No-Passing Zone

Change is a part of life. Unless you're talking about Nevada traffic laws.

You can still legally skip the seat belt, as long as you follow other rules of the road. You can keep running red lights with impunity, as long as nobody's around. Truck drivers can still cruise any lane they please, though they might be offered suggestions. And Silver State byways will continue to be toll-free.

No, our byway lawbook isn't much different now than it's been, after the state's 2007 Legislature wrapped up business this month and put Carson City in the rear-view mirror. Traffic safety advocates say that's not a good thing.

"The overall feeling from this Legislature is that there's no reason to strengthen or improve or create any new traffic safety laws. That's troubling," Michael Geeser, a spokesman and lobbyist for AAA Nevada, the driver advocacy group, said last week.

"There is still a great deal to accomplish in the way of traffic safety in this state," Geeser said. "This session, it seemed like an uphill battle to convince legislators that tougher traffic safety laws are needed."

That, despite the growing carnage on Southern Nevada roads. Every year, we top the previous year's byway body count. Why the inaction?

"There's strong sentiment in the Legislature to prevent Nevada from becoming a nanny state," Geeser said.

Given the state's historical let-me-be mind-set, that's no small obstacle.

Among the legislative losers were proposals to make failure to wear a seat belt a primary offense (right now, you can only be cited for being unbuckled if first stopped and ticketed for another traffic violation).

Other losers were allowing the use of so-called "red light" cameras to record and ticket red-light runners (images from unmanned camera equipment is inadmissible in traffic cases); and banning teen drivers from talking on cell phones while on the go (not that there's any restriction on chatting-as-you-go for anybody here).

Even the most labor-intensive efforts couldn't get some bills unstuck.

"There was 2 1/2 hours of testimony on the seat belt bill, and it didn't even come up for a (committee) vote," Geeser said. "That's the kind of frustration we feel."

The "red light" camera and seat belt bills are perennial losers in Carson City. They'll almost certainly come up again. And if history is any guide, the odds of passage are slim.

Other bills regarding traffic safety or convenience that died quiet deaths were proposals to mandate helmet use by children riding bicycles; require drivers to display only one license plate; force gravel trucks to cover loads with tarps to pre-empt loose gravel from smashing windshields; offer tax and fee breaks to hybrid car owners; and allow creation of toll roads, where now such roads are banned.

So, what did get accomplished? A little bit, in the way of safety.

"We're starting to see a small change" in Legislative resistance to new rules, Geeser said.

Among new laws going into effect Oct. 1, drunken drivers will now have to spend at least 12 hours sobering up in jail before being sprung.

Teen drivers won't be allowed to chauffeur friends until they've been licensed for at least six months, double the original waiting time.

Parents who buy booze for teens that get into car wrecks are now legally liable for whatever happens.

Parking will be banned within 20 feet of all crosswalks, improving visibility for drivers and walkers. And the Legislature rejected an effort to repeal the state's requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets.

Geeser said it's not enough.

"While the state Legislature deserves some credit for starting to change their feelings about traffic safety, the overall assessment is there's still a long way to go in Nevada," he said.

In other new traffic laws taking effect this fall, drivers looking to make a left turn who get caught in the middle of an intersection when a stoplight turns red will be able to legally finish the turn. Previously, different municipalities had different rules on what was legal in that situation.

Also, the Nevada Department of Transportation will be allowed to put up signs that "advise" trucks which lanes to use on freeways. That's a watered-down version of a bill that would have barred big rigs from the outside "passing" lanes of expressways.

And hybrid owners will be able to avoid the dreaded smog check, as long as their vehicle is less than six years old.

Still awaiting the governor's signature last week were bills that would toughen penalties for street racers and allow Southern Nevada municipalities to create an advisory committee offering suggestions for how the Transportation Department may want to regulate or restrict truck traffic on certain roads or during certain times. But the panel won't have any power to set or enforce any rules.

That's pretty much it. You're now free to go beltless, 'til 2009 at least.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com or OSofradzija@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.