CARSON CITY — Several Nevadans pleaded Tuesday for legislators to spare others the agony they have suffered by passing a bill to outlaw all drivers from texting or using hand-held cell phones.
"I have been to too many memorial services of friends who lost their lives to distracted driving," said 19-year-old Capri Barnes, testifying by teleconference from Las Vegas. "The temptation (to text or talk on a cell phone) is always there. I have lost all hope for my generation of teenagers."
From the Carson City hearing room, Kate Young fought back tears while telling the Senate Transportation Committee how her son, James Montez, was killed last year when his motorcycle was struck by a teen driver going the wrong way on a highway while using his laptop computer.
In Las Vegas, Jennifer Watkins told how she and her newlywed husband suffered serious injuries in 2004 when their car was hit by a teen driver talking on a cell phone. The couple had pulled off the highway onto the shoulder to help a friend whose car had broken down.
The Senate committee took no action after a three-hour hearing on Sen. Shirley Breeden’s Senate Bill 140 and a related bill, SB145, introduced by Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas.
Representatives from cab companies, amateur radio operators and even Google sought exemptions. Google lobbyist David Goldwater said his company is developing cars that can be operated without drivers, by artificial intelligence, and they want an exemption.
Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said a subcommittee will look at proposed amendments and bring them to the committee, which then will consider them.
Two years ago, a similar bill passed the Assembly but did not become law, Schneider noted. Chances of a bill passing there are good now because former foe Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, and house leaders now support at least a texting ban.
Thirty states prohibit texting by all drivers and eight others ban juvenile drivers from texting.
"We need to add Nevada to that list," said Breeden, D-Henderson. "It is our responsibility to protect the citizens of our state."
Traci Pearl, administrator of the state Office of Traffic Safety, testified that distracted driving was a factor in 28 percent of the fatal accidents in the state from 2005 to 2009. Pearl said a recent survey found that 51 percent of Nevada drivers talk on their cell phones and 12 percent regularly text.
Breeden’s bill calls for a $250 fine for anyone who uses a cell phone or texts while driving. A second offense would be a $500 fine. A third offense would result in a $1,000 fine and suspension of driving privileges for at least six months.
Barnes said such fines are stiff enough that teens would stop texting and using cell phones.
She said many young drivers put their cell phones at the top of their steering wheels so that they can talk and text at the same time.
Washoe County Public Defender Orrin Johnson criticized the proposal because, he said, it would "make it easy for law enforcement to pull someone over for no reason."
He also noted there already is a law against inattentive and distracted driving.
But Schneider asked whether what Johnson fears had occurred in California, which last year passed a law like Breeden’s proposal. Johnson had no answer, declaring it would be "difficult to gather" that information.
Las Vegas police and lobbyists from many insurance companies support the bans, especially the call for a texting ban.
"This has become an epidemic," AAA Nevada lobbyist Michael Geeser said about texting. "We need to do something about it."
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.