Friday, June 17, 2011 | 1:35 p.m.
CARSON CITY – A bill that bans a motorist from texting or using a hand-held cell phone while driving has been signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Starting in January, a driver caught violating the law will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $50. Until then, law enforcement officials can only issue a warning.
Sen. Shirley Breeden, the sponsor of Senate Bill 140, has said some residents would be mad about the restriction, but she added that it will save lives.
Law enforcement officials pressed for the law, saying inattention by motorists is one of the biggest causes of accidents and traffic deaths.
The law is expected to lead to more purchases of earpieces, since motorists can still use a cell phone without holding the phone to their ear.
A first offense will not be treated as a moving traffic violation. A second offense in a seven-year period carries a $100 fine and the third and subsequent offenses would result in a $250 fine. Those convicted of a third offense in a seven-year period will have their driver’s license suspended for six months.
The law is not like the state's seat belt law, in which a law enforcement officer can only cite a person for failing to wear a seat belt if the motorist is stopped for another violation. The cell phone ban allows an officer to halt a driver and write a citation without another violation being involved.
There are a host of exceptions in the ban. Emergency and law enforcement officials who are acting in the line of duty will not be cited. Neither will a person who is requesting assistance for a medical emergency or reporting a safety hazard or criminal activity.
Also exempted are those who are responding to a situation requiring immediate action in which stopping a car would be inadvisable or dangerous. The law banning cell phone use does not cover a licensed amateur radio operator who is providing communication services during a disaster or is participating in an emergency drill.
Public utility workers are also exempt when responding to an emergency.