Rob Stepien
Special to the Bonanza

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April 3, 2012
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Question Your Cops: An update on illegal cellphone use

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Question, from an anonymous reader,

“Hello, I would like to know since the law has gone into effect. How has cellphone enforcement gone in Incline Village? Do we have a real problem here or do people seem to be abiding by the law? I still see many people doing it — what's the cops' perspective? Also, what it the total bail amount for a violation? Any funny stories from people you bust? Any good excuses?”

Hello and thanks for the question,

As it relates to the automobile/driver relationship, the driver and the cellphone “pairing” while operating a vehicle have only been mixing for a short period of time. It didn't take long for states to realize that this mix can be as dangerous as Driving Under the Influence. This element of distraction in short stints is as effective in causing an accident as a driver under the influence.

Akin to the DUI problem is that drivers have all ranges of responsibility; some stop after a drink or two and some don't. Some make a phone call quick and some play popular apps regarding birds while driving. Despite this, the act is inherently dangerous and operating a vehicle with unnecessary distractions has too many negative consequences.

Here are some facts and stats from the National Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

• In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured.

• 20 percent of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. 40 percent of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.

• Drivers who use hand-held devices are 4 times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.

Here are two that might really catch your eye:

• Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.

• Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

In the Incline area, and since the law became enforceable, the Nevada Highway Patrol has made 52 stops for cellphone use; 22 of these resulted in citations. The Washoe County Sheriff's Office has made many stops, and both agencies agree that breaking drivers of this habit will come with time and enforcement. The bail and fee amounts are about $100 for the 1st offense; $170 for the 2nd offense and $310 for the 3rd offense. Each one of those could have paid for a Bluetooth.

We have heard some great stories and fibs along the way. One female swore to the trooper she has ear pain and was only rubbing her ear when the alleged act was witnessed. Later in the stop, after the trooper found the cell under the seat, did she then admit to being on the call for work purposes.

Here are some of the quotes from drivers:

• “This is the first time I have ever used the phone while driving.”

• “My son is in jail and I'm trying to get his father to bail him out.”

• “I'm usually the one telling people to hang up the phone.”

• “What's the difference between talking on a phone and eating a hamburger?”

The Highway Patrol and the Washoe Co. Sheriff's Office are still urging drivers to limit distractions when driving, and in this day and age, the cellphone is the biggest of them all.

Thanks and drive safely for yourself and others.

— Sgt. Rob Stepien is Lake Tahoe supervisor of the Nevada Highway Patrol.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Apr 3, 2012 11:04AM Published Apr 3, 2012 10:57AM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.