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November 23, 2014

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Drivers nabbed talking on phone get chance to avoid tickets

Starting on Monday, Las Vegas motorists pulled over by the Nevada Highway Patrol for using their cellphones while driving could have citations dismissed by participating in an online program.

Under the pilot program, which runs until July 10, drivers could be offered the chance to complete specific online tasks for 28 consecutive days instead of paying the ticket. Activities include documenting an instance where driving distraction-free kept the motorist safe, sharing a specific video on social media or taking a quiz about distracted driving.

When troopers cite drivers for using a handheld electronic device behind the wheel, they may also invite them to participate in the “It can wait for 28 challenge.” If drivers register on the program website within 24 hours and successfully complete the assigned activities, their citation will be waived.

The Nevada Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety, Nevada Highway Patrol Southern Command and Clark County Justice Court are teaming up for the project. For now, the program only includes the Highway Patrol’s jurisdiction in the Las Vegas area, but it may be expanded in the future, Trooper Loy Hixson said.

Drivers who most likely will be invited to participate in the program are first-time offenders who haven’t been involved in a crash or driving under the influence, Hixson said.

“It provides us with more probability of them being successful in the program,” he said.

Failure to fulfill program requirements — like registering too late or neglecting to finish the daily activities — would make the driver susceptible to seeing their citation processed.

Fines for breaking Nevada’s hands-free device law in Nevada range from $50 for the first offense up to $250 and a six-month license suspension for repeat violations within seven years.

The law, which includes talking on a handheld phone or texting, took effect Jan. 1, 2012, but officials say distracted driving still results in more than 3,500 crashes every year.

This year, more than 9,000 drivers in Nevada — 5,800 of them in Las Vegas — have been cited for driving while using a cellphone, Hixson said.

The 28-day challenge is an effort to address the problem by changing people’s behavior. It’s based on the concept that it takes 28 days to break a habit.

Officials will track how many people complete the program to gauge how well it is working, Hixson said.

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