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COMMENTARY: It’s time for Nevada lawmakers to address the issue of cellphones and driving

There were several articles that appeared in the Review-Journal recently about my testimony on Assembly Bill 200, which would allow police officers to field test cell phones at a crash, similar to how sobriety tests are administered.

The solution we discussed was a 90-second test where only typing and swiping would be reported and personal content could not be retrieved even if desired. The test can differentiate between illegal typing and swiping and can also identify legal Bluetooth or voice activation activity. The phone never leaves the driver’s hand.

I don’t believe the articles accurately explained the existing problem and why the legislation is needed. I also believe the headlines — “Post-crash proposal raises privacy worry” or “Bill to test Nevada drivers’ phones after a crash brings concern” — were unnecessarily Draconian. I would have recommended “Bill to test Nevada drivers’ phones exposes a broken system.”

During my testimony, I explained how a texting driver killed my son and that there is no police protocol that exists throughout the country. To make my point, I included a letter from Teressa Young who lives in Desert Shores in Southern Nevada.

Her letter explained that her husband was killed while on his daily walk when a woman drove up on the sidewalk. The only explanation the killer gave was, “I blinked, and he was just there.”

Ms. Young explained that police determined the driver was neither drunk nor impaired by drugs. Police also explained to her that they only pull cell records if there is a hit-and-run. I read similar stories to the Assembly Judicial Committee from all over the country

Try telling Ms. Young that Nevada is investigating distracted driving properly. Nevada had more than 50,000 crashes last year and we don’t know which ones were caused by texting or other phone use. It’s no wonder frustrating stories such as Ms. Young’s appear in my mailbox frequently.

Drunken-driving fatalities have been cut in half since their peak. The improvement didn’t happen until we as a society stopped treating drunken driving like a joke. The implementation of sobriety laws was scary, but I can’t imagine a legislator now trying to reverse that protocol.

In an effort to address privacy and due process concerns, Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow, the bill’s sponsor, added several amendments. One would require a warrant and language for reasonable suspicion. I truly believe this is the proper balance between public safety and privacy.

Sure, the legislators asked tough questions about privacy issues and how this would be administered. They were good questions, and there was a respectful debate. I believe, however, the Review-Journal reported the events with scary headlines and described the legislators as “wary.”

I hope in the future your paper will focus on the real problem of distracted driving and the lack of protocol to determine the cause. Please follow up when police say they are investigating a crash. We can’t solve a problem until we face the issue. AB200 is legislation that is jumping through hoops to respect privacy.

Ben Lieberman is president of the Alliance Combating Distracted Driving. He writes from Chappaqua, N.Y.

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