Nevada drivers push cellphone use to limit


A woman recently pulled over by Nevada Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Honea was shocked the trooper stopped her for talking on her cellphone while driving.

She was, after all, holding the cellphone under her chin as she spoke and to her ear when she listened. Not the conventional method of talking on a phone and not exactly sneaky enough to fly under Honea's radar. Fortunately for her, fines do not go into effect until Jan. 1.

Even though it has been nearly two months since the cellphone law was implemented, traffic officers say they constantly see motorists with their devices plastered to their ears. Nevada drivers seem to have a sense of entitlement, officers said, telling police that the call was important. Aren't they all?

Law enforcement agencies have not kept track of the number of drivers pulled over for using their phones because they don't log warnings; but judging by what they have witnessed, this will not be an easy adjustment.

"People are used to instant, real-time, up-to-the-minute information," said North Las Vegas officer Chrissie Coon. "These desires do not stop when drivers get behind the wheel."

Motorists have tried different ways to skirt the law, like activating the speaker, setting the phone down and shouting at their laps. While that falls under the "hands-free" category and will save drivers a ticket in most jurisdictions, it won't in North Las Vegas, where a distracted driving law was passed four years ago. Officers traveling in a 45 mph zone watched a woman blow past them at 60 mph while applying mascara. And before we get all excited about women putting on makeup while they're driving, officers also described a male driver reading the newspaper on his steering wheel while shaving using the rear view mirror.

"I told him, 'This is multi-tasking at a level I can't even understand. But please stop it,' " Honea said.

On Thursday and Friday, troopers stopped approximately 80 motorists for talking on their cellphones, but the only citation they received was for failing to wear a seat belt.

Not wearing a seat belt? Granted, failing to buckle up in Nevada is a secondary offense, meaning officers can only cite a motorist for failing to buckle up if the motorist is pulled over for a different reason. But the first seat belt law was passed in 1984, and nationwide campaigns have aired consistently since then.

Officers still hear the excuses: "The doctor told me I cannot" -- even though only one of four officers interviewed could recall seeing a doctor's note in the past 20 years -- or "I forgot" or "I took it off to retrieve my driver's license."

The statistics are readily available. Last year, 13,000 lives were saved by seat belts; but still, one in five drivers still fail to wear them. In 1994, 58 percent of motorists nationwide wore safety belts; in 2010, 85 percent buckled in.

In Nevada -- hey, check it out, we actually rank high in something positive -- 91 percent of motorists wore their seat belts. But there is a caveat -- that percentage is for drivers and solely during daylight hours. The majority of injury accidents occur at night, and most times it is the passenger who is badly hurt.

The point is, it has taken drivers a very long time to become accustomed to or give in to the seat belt law.

"We give constant reminders to wear a seat belt to drive the point home," North Las Vegas Lt. Randy Salyer said. "Hopefully with cellphones it won't take that long."

Even if motorists respect the cellphone law, clearly other distractions exist.

Salyer recalled an accident in which a vehicle veered across the roadway and struck a parked car. The driver admitted that he was helping his passenger clean up a can of beans that had spilled.

"Who would think ... a can of beans," Salyer said.

Other motorists are digging through their bags, changing the radio station, petting Foofie the poodle that sits on their lap or tending to their kids.

"If we had zero tolerance, I could not even get two or three blocks from the police station before pulling someone over," Salyer said, referring to his city's distracted driving laws. "Enforcement is tempered with discretion."

Here is your tip of the day: During the holiday season, law enforcement officers with every police department in Southern Nevada along with Highway Patrol troopers will be out in force looking for drivers who are distracted. They might call it an awareness campaign; you might call it an unfair sting. It doesn't really matter. Just know they will be watching for "anything that causes you to lose your focus on the road," Coon said.

On Black Friday and Saturday, be especially cautious in shopping districts, because officers plan to saturate those areas.

"Drivers are frantically running around to get to the next sale," Coon said.

If you survive the crush of Black Friday, the least you can do is return safely home with your haul.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Include your phone number.

 

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