CARSON CITY — Bills to outlaw texting and cell phone use by drivers took center stage in the Legislature once again Tuesday, but did not move forward.
In the Senate, Transportation Chairwoman Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, postponed a vote on her Senate Bill 140 that would ban all drivers from texting and using hand-held cell phones.
In the Assembly, Transportation Chairwoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, heard dozens of witnesses express support for Assembly Bill 151 that also would outlaw texting and could be amended to prohibit using hand-held cell phones as well. No action was taken.
Legislators are poised to pass a version of these bills sometime this session, but on Tuesday bickered over the details of the proposals.
Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said he opposed Breeden’s bill because Nevada already has "laws on the book and regulations that they (police) can arrest you for lack of attention."
Nevada does have a law that allows police to cite inattentive drivers. Las Vegas police testified they used it to cite 3,840 people last year.
But police this year and in 2009 called for passage of specific bans on driver texting and hand-held cell phone use. Thirty states now prohibit texting by all drivers, while eight restrict drivers from using hand-held cell phones.
Rhoads pointed out drivers can be distracted by more than cell phones.
"What about eating a hamburger and putting your makeup on or reading the newspaper?" he asked. "Eating a hamburger or drinking a Coke is just as dangerous."
Assembly Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, added that he didn’t like the $250 fine for the first offense in Breeden’s bill. A first offense should be a warning, he said.
Breeden countered by saying studies show that driving while texting is more hazardous than drunken driving. Tracy Pearl, administrator of the state Office of Traffic Safety, said a texting driver is 23 times more likely to be in an accident than a nontexting driver.
She said she would postpone a vote until having further discussions with members.
In the Assembly, police officers questioned the $2,000 fine and loss of license for three years that would be imposed in AB151 for drivers caught texting a third time. Such penalties might lead to jail time or at least probation and police questioned whether legislators want to fill up probationary caseloads with texters.
Las Vegas police lobbyist A.G. Delap said he would meet with other police and come up with a proposal for sufficient fines against those who text and drive.
Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, the sponsor of AB151, added he had no problem with amendments, or adding language to prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones.
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