Though statistics are still being gathered, dissecting the northern Nevada region, numbers showed 11,992 citations issued to motorists seen talking, texting or reading non-voice communication while on Nevada highways. Trooper Chuck Allen, public information officer for NHP, said the number will help the public understand just how many motorists are using their phones on the road.
“We knew there were going to be a number of citations throughout the state and to see a thousand or more people per month is quite a few,” Allen said Wednesday. “We realize that local law enforcement agencies will likely see more of them than (NHP) would out on the highways. Many times, people will see us approaching and immediately hang up or hide their phone only to pick it back up when we drive away.”
Out of the 11,992 citations given, as of Dec. 26, 2012, 30 were second-offense drivers and 25 were issued a third offense. Each of the first five months saw more than 1,100 citations with the highest number coming in at 1,269 during May. June was the first of four months to register triple digits at 878 and December brought in the lowest number of the year at 438. At least one person was cited for their second or third offense in 10 out of 12 months.
According to NHP, which cited the Reno and Sparks justice courts, a first-time offender pays $112 and has zero demerit points against their license. A second offense costs $192 and a third costs $352, both of which register four points against a driver’s license as does any similar violation thereafter.
While in his personal vehicle or an unmarked NHP vehicle, Allen said he noticed several people using their phones while driving or stopped at traffic signals. He said reinforcing the penalties drivers must pay is likely not the only thing deterring some motorists from using their phones.
“I really was surprised at the number of people who were texting or talking on their phones during any given day,” he said. “Part of me believes some people don’t think they are going to get caught because they have tinted windows or because of their discretionary techniques inside the car. I think the DMV penalties alone will help bring down this year’s citations because of the impact they can have on a driver’s insurance.”
Allen said stop lights are the most common time for a driver to use their phone and he said from afar a driver using their phone in the car will closely resemble a driver who is under the influence. He noted pausing at a green light, deviating out of a lane and driving at a lower speed as common characteristics between the two.
“Maybe in a driver’s own mind they feel they are not driving when they are stopped at a red light, but the law states it is illegal to use your phone while operating a motor vehicle on a roadway. It doesn’t state that the car has to be moving,” Allen said. “When you are driving you are distracted manually, cognitively and visually. Those three types of distractions can only increase the risk of being unprepared for unplanned events.”
Police agencies throughout the region are actively trying to warn drivers of the dangers of distracted driving through advertising campaigns and demonstrations. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office held several distracted driving demonstrations in 2012 and has several more planned this year after receiving grant funding for an awareness program.
“The worst thing that could happen is that people see us and quickly stop texting or talking on the phone, and as soon as they pass and they don’t see us anywhere near, that’s when they pick it up and continue a conversation,” WCSO Deputy Armando Avina said during a distracted driving demonstration in December. “We don’t want that to happen. We are out here to make sure people understand the risks involved, not so much to scratch somebody a ticket because that is the least we can do. A cell phone should not be something you put before your future.”
Avina noted it has become second nature to pick up a cell phone whenever an alert is received, but said the potential to cause harm to yourself and others is not worth answering a call, text or email right away.
“We want the public to understand that we are not just out here to ticket, we are out here to try to change your lifestyle and make you aware of the risks involved,” Avina said. “Driving impaired can be prevented. The only thing that should matter to a driver is being aware of your surroundings and controlling the vehicle.”