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April 20, 2014

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Clark County cell phone use heaviest in nation

CARSON CITY -- Only one place in the world has more cell phone use per capita than Clark County -- Hong Kong, state lawmakers were told Thursday.

The telecommunications distinction noted in industry reports came up during testimony on a proposed law that would prohibit local governments from adopting any cell phone use regulations that are tougher than those of the state.

Local government representatives objected to Senate Bill 10. It had been introduced in reaction to a proposal last year in Clark County by then-Commissioner Erin Kenny. Kenny had sought to ban handheld cell phone use while driving. The measure never passed at the local level.

Dan Musgrove, a Clark County lobbyist, said the local measure was simply in response to a "horrendous" accident on Interstate 215 caused by a driver who was using a cell phone.

In that case, Karen Morris of Henderson was allegedly talking on a cell phone in March 2001 when she sped through two red lights at 65 mph and struck another vehicle, killing Leona Greif, 61, and Marcia Nathans, 65.

Nathans' son, Elliot Nathans, sustained severe head injuries in the crash. Morris and her 7-year-old daughter suffered minor injuries.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Gary Booker said it was likely the first time in the nation's history that a prosecutor tried to link a cell phone to a fatal accident.

Morris avoided trial by pleading guilty in November 2001 to three counts of reckless driving. She avoided a potential maximum sentence of 18 years in prison and instead received five years of probation.

Metro Police spokesman Officer Jose Montoya said Metro doesn't keep statistics on how many crashes could be blamed on cell phone use.

The only way they would know if cell phone use contributed to a crash would be if the parties involved told police, Montoya said.

Nevada is not the only place where there is concern over the alleged links between cell phone use and traffic accidents, however, and legislation has come at both the city and state levels.

One of the most recent cases was in New York City. The City Council there passed a ban on cell phone use while driving. It was vetoed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Jan. 15, however. Bloomberg said the ban would be "too difficult, if not impossible, to enforce."

More than 38 states have seen bills introduced to restrict cell phone use but at least a third of those bills have failed. Many states and cities have also debated more limited cell phone restrictions, such as banning their use by people who are driving school buses.

In Carson City Thursday, Kimberly McDonald, a North Las Vegas lobbyist speaking on behalf of the Nevada League of Cities, said local governments would oppose Senate Bill 10 because it leaves local governments with "no discretion."

But lobbyists for wireless phone providers said the measure makes sense because it is impossible to enforce restrictions in a given jurisdiction due to the mobility of cell phone users.

"The real issue is inattentive driving," said Sprint lobbyist Margaret McMillan.

Tom Skancke, representing AT&T Wireless, said the issue should be discussed only at the state level.

The measure is being considered by the Senate's Commerce and Labor Committee.

Meanwhile, most of the many cell phone users in Clark County can be expected to remain oblivious to the debate going on in the capital.

In associate professor Xin Li's math class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Thursday afternoon, for example, a cell phone rang during the lecture and the professor continued teaching without acknowledging the ring or the student's apology for forgetting to mute her device. Most of the other members of the class had their phones either turned off or set on muted vibrating alerts.

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