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July 31, 2015

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Checkpoint draws protesters opposed to the method, but not the message

Police pulling over drivers who are violating law by using their cellphones

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Leila Navidi

Members of Bikers of Lesser Tolerance, a Second Amendment advocacy group, warn motorists using their cellphones of Las Vegas Metro Police’s Traffic Bureau patrol near Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway on Friday, Jan. 6, 2012.

Motorist Cellphone Ban

Rich Brown of Sacramento, Calif., and part of a group called Bikers of Lesser Tolerance, a Second Amendment advocacy group, warns motorists using their cellphones of Las Vegas Metro Police's Traffic Bureau patrol near Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway on Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. Launch slideshow »

David Stilwell and a band of motorcyclists parked their bikes Friday afternoon close to the Long John Silver's on Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway. Nearby, a group of Metro Police — also on motorcycles — waited.

Stilwell, joined by about 10 of his friends wearing black leather jackets, some with firearms resting in holsters on their hips, stood along the sidewalk waving signs that read "Police Checkpoint Ahead."

But up ahead wasn't a typical DUI checkpoint; the officers on Flamingo Road were pulling over drivers on cellphones.

"Police enforcement should be up front," said Stilwell, of Las Vegas.

Stilwell's beef was with police checkpoints in general, not the new law that prohibits motorists from texting or talking on cellphones while driving.

"I see people with a full bowl of cereal with milk in it on their way to work," said Stilwell, adding that there is no law that keeps drivers from eating on the run.

The signs served to warn drivers, Stilwell said. "We're not breaking the law."

Sgt. Peter Kisfalvi, with Metro's traffic section, agreed the group wasn't breaking the law.

Kisfalvi stood outside a nearby building watching the eastbound traffic cross the intersection while also keeping an eye on the Stilwell's group.

Maryland Parkway and Flamingo Road is on the department's top 10 list of collision-prone intersections and it's the fourth intersection Kisfalvi and his unit was patrolling this week to enforce the new law.

"Green Chevy Blazer. The phone is in her left hand," Kisfalvi said into a walkie-talkie. "White Toyota two-door. Her phone is in her right hand."

Since Oct. 1, officers had been told to give warnings to motorists caught on cellphones. Now since Jan. 1, anyone caught with a cellphone will be fined, he said.

Fines start at $50 and increase to $250, depending on the number of violations.

Humberto Hernandez of Las Vegas seemed calm and understanding when he was pulled over Friday and given a citation.

"I was calling," he said. "Next time, no more."

Other drivers, like DJ Spears, weren't so relaxed.

"I've just had a (bad) week," said Spears, who started to tear up as she explained that Monday her dog died and she was on her phone getting directions to pick up health insurance.

"I was being as careful as I could be, but it does take attention away from driving," she said.

Spears resolved to buy a Bluetooth, which is allowed under the new law.

The law exempts firefighters, medical personnel and police officers who are responding to an emergency, and people using their phones to call 911, Kisfalvi said.

Officers issuing citations that day were sure to explain the new law to the drivers.

The extra patrol was to promote safety and increase awareness, said Kisfalvi.

During the week, officers made around 260 stops and wrote more than 230 citations, said Kisfalvi, adding that his unit arrested a person with a felony warrant, another for misdemeanor offenses and another for DUI.

"The message of 'hang up and drive' is much more important then writing a citation," he said. "I'd rather not write the citation."

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