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December 24, 2014

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National summit to put spotlight on distracted driving

Some hope summit will help propel ban on texting while driving in Nevada

See the summit live

For live streaming video of the national summit on distracted driving, go to the Department of Transportation Web site. The summit starts in Washington D.C., at 12:15 p.m. Las Vegas time.

Beyond the Sun

As a national summit on the dangers of distracted driving gets under way today in Washington, some people in Las Vegas are hoping the meetings may help bring change to Nevada.

The summit was called by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood after a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study released in August found that truck drivers who texted had a 23 times greater collision risk, and using a cell phone or reaching for an electronic device increased the risk of collisions about six times for car and truck drivers.

A bill to ban texting while driving in Nevada passed the state Senate earlier this year, but it died in the Assembly Transportation Committee.

State Sen. Shirley Breeden, who introduced the bill, said she hopes the recent attention the issue has received nationally will help get a law passed in Nevada when the Legislature meets again in two years.

“I do plan to bring another bill up next session,” she said. “We need to keep hammering on the issue and bring some common sense to driving and really get the message out.”

“Innocent people’s lives are at stake and if we can save one life, it’s worth it for me,” she said.

Breeden said she had a lot of support for her bill, including auto club AAA, insurance companies and some cell phone providers.

“I’ve been talking to law enforcement and folks in the community, and everyone still supports it,” she said.

Erin Breen, the director UNLV’s Safe Community Partnership, testified before the Assembly committee about the bill.

She also said a ban on texting while driving has a good chance of passing in the next session because of changes in the Assembly’s membership.

“I have a lot of hope for the state of Nevada in the coming session,” she said.

Much of the opposition to the texting ban and some other transportation safety issues was a result of people who don’t want the government to be more involved in people’s lives, she said.

“I’m all for less government, but the reality is that we all pay the price for that,” Breen said. “In a perfect world, the government doesn’t have to tell you not to talk on your phone or not to text or to wear your seat belt or not drink and drive, but we live in the it’s-not-going-to-happen-to-me world and everybody pushes their luck.”

Some members of Congress have proposed passing a mandate that would take highway funding from states that fail to pass a ban on texting while driving. Ford Motor Company, Verizon Wireless and the Governors Highway Safety Association have all said they support nationwide bans.

“It’s kind of sad that it takes the big arm to come down before we do the sensible thing,” Breen said. “I’m hoping we, ourselves, can do the sensible thing before Big Brother tells us that we have to.”

Other opponents of the texting ban have said that it would be difficult to enforce the law.

But Nevada Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Honea said it would be easy to enforce, and he often sees people with both hands on their cell phones at the top of the steering wheel.

A study released by AAA last week also supports law enforcement’s position that a law would be effective.

Prior to California’s texting-while-driving ban, which began in January, researchers observed 1.4 percent of drivers in Orange County texting behind the wheel. After the ban, 0.4 percent of drivers were see texting.

“We are pleased to see that the frequency of texting while driving dropped after the texting ban went into effect in California,” AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a statement. “We hope that this new data will help influence lawmakers in other states to take action and pass similar legislation banning texting while driving.”

AAA has asked drivers nationwide to sign a pledge to not take their eyes off the road next week as part of their “Heads Up Driving Week.”

That means no phone calls, texting or eating at the wheel.

“Try it for a week, that’s all we ask,” AAA Nevada spokesman Michael Geeser said. “It only takes an instant for a crash to occur. We hope that by driving distraction-free for a week people can pick up the habit for life.”

Breen said she uses a simple trick to keep herself from being tempted by a cell phone while driving: she keeps her phone in her purse on the backseat.

And she doesn’t miss having the phone in her hand all the time.

“What did we do in the old days when people couldn’t get a hold of us 24/7? We survived quite nicely,” she said.

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