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May 27, 2015

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Senate approves bill restricting cell phone use while driving

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CARSON CITY – Senate Democrats overrode opposition from Republicans on Tuesday and approved a bill that would prohibit motorists from text messaging or talking on a cell phone while driving.

Senate Bill 140 advanced on a 12-9 vote and goes to the Assembly. The bill contains exceptions for emergency and law enforcement personnel.

Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, said the intention of the bill isn't to take away the rights of motorists, but instead, to make roads safer.

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, questioned whether GPS could be used in vehicles. He said he has to press a button to activate the system, but under the bill he would be breaking the law.

“It makes no sense you can use the radio but not the GPS,” he said Monday during debate on the measure.

Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, said the GPS could be used if it is attached to the dash but can’t be held in the motorist’s hands while driving. Manendo said juveniles have become addicted to using cell phones, questioning why a driver couldn't pull over to respond to a text message.

The bill would permit a driver to communicate if he or she doesn’t use hands. If approved by the Assembly, it would go into effect July 1, but officers would only give warnings through Dec. 31.

Starting in 2012, officers would issue citations and the first offense would be a fine of $50. A second offense within seven years would result in a $100 fine and a third offense within the seven years would get a $250 fine.

Anyone who is nabbed using a cell or texting could be convicted of a misdemeanor, but a first offense wouldn't go on a person’s driving record.

Law enforcement officers and firefighters would be exempt if they were on duty. An amateur radio operator who is communicating tied to an actual or impending disaster or emergency would also be exempt.

The measure was opposed by all Republican senators except Minority Leader Mike McGinness of Fallon.

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