CARSON CITY — Nevada pedestrians could soon have something in common with their counterparts in the town of Fort Lee, N.J.: The potential for a ticket for texting while crossing the street.
The New Jersey town gained international attention last year when police started issuing $85 tickets for pedestrians texting while crossing the street, but only in cases of jaywalking.
So far government entities around the country have not followed suit in any overwhelming way.
But Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, wants to take the idea a step further in Nevada with Assembly Bill 123 by prohibiting pedestrians from reading or texting on smartphones while crossing roads statewide, jaywalking or not. He said it is a public safety issue.
An initial violation would see a written warning, followed by fines of $100 for a second and $250 for a third violation.
The bill provides for some exceptions, including medical emergencies.
Munford made his case for the law Thursday in the Assembly Transportation Committee. It was the bill’s first hearing.
The hearing did not generate much comment, either in support or opposition to the bill.
Munford said his bill is the logical extension of Senate Bill 140 of the 2011 session, which banned texting or using cellphones or other hand-held devices while driving.
“I believe it is imperative we take the next step,” he said.
Munford said his main concern is major arterials such as Charleston and Rainbow boulevards.
Munford cited a study by the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle published in December 2012 that analyzed pedestrian activity while crossing the street. More than 1,000 people were observed crossing 20 busy intersections. Only one in four observed all safety rules, and texting was found to be the most risky behavior.
Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas, a member of the committee, asked about other risky behavior, saying she sometimes reads while walking.
Committee Chairman Richard Carrillo, D-Las Vegas, asked if he could get a ticket just by looking at his device if a call came in and a law enforcement officer saw him do it. Carrillo said he frequently looks to see who is calling in case it is his wife trying to reach him.
There was no immediate answer to his question.
The Nevada Office of Traffic Safety reported a large jump in pedestrian deaths in Clark County in 2012 over 2011. There were 42 deaths reported last year compared to 30 in 2011.
Munford agreed that pedestrians can engage in other distracted behavior, but said the bill is aimed at texting and the use of smartphones because of their frequent use, particularly by young people.
The bill could be amended to reflect the concerns, he said.
“It’s an attention getter,” Munford said.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at email@example.com or 775-687-3900.