The B.S.:

The new DUI: It’s time for distracted drivers to wise up

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

VEGAS INC Coverage

It was a weekday morning, and Glen Lerner’s jovial jingle was in my head as I drove out on the 215. I’d prepared for work with the TV on, catching some of those cute ads that remind you he’s the way to go.

Combined with the bucks spent by the gloomy Chad Golightly, the dour Adam Kutner, the stoic Ed Bernstein, and a gaggle of others aspiring to become scene-of-the accident household names, local ad spending by personal injury lawyers amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for TV affiliates. Maybe more.

They want Nevadans to know they’re here for us. In case something goes, you know, wrong. Like in a car accident.

They all came to mind as I motored along past yet another of their billboard ads, and as I couldn’t help but notice how many other drivers were looking at handheld devices as they flew by me.

Probably because there have been so many related accidents and deaths, there are now a lot of statistics on drivers’ use of mobile devices. The National Highway Safety Administration says that at any given moment, about 1 percent of all U.S. drivers are texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a handheld device — a figure that often seems low to me. And maybe I’m imagining this, but there seems to be a pattern of careless traffic maneuvers by drivers using a mobile device.

Not so long ago, I was one of those guys, having felt I’d mastered the art of one-finger typing, of surfing the Web while changing lanes and of holding the phone next to my ear while turning at an intersection. But that changed after a couple of close calls, the sort that are pretty much inevitable when you’re cruising along and not watching the road.

As of Jan. 1, the digital era is supposed to be over for every other driver in Nevada, too. Following a bold effort led last year by Sen. Shirley Breeden of Henderson, state lawmakers passed a law that prohibits motorists from texting or talking on hand-held devices. The fines start at a modest 50 bucks and escalate after that.

Other states have not had much success with this. Some have been criticized as being too gentle in their enforcement. And to get cited, drivers have to be caught in the act. So injuries and fatalities have been increasing.

Now, we are hearing that the feds have had enough. A few weeks back, the politically influential National Transportation Safety Board recommended a national ban on the use of mobile devices while driving, the only exceptions being for emergencies and navigation systems. The NTSB said that in the past couple of years alone, scores of fatal accidents resulted from distracted driving, and the phenomenon that actually is being referred to as driving under the influence of a cellphone.

Federal intervention seems unusual, but there have simply been too many high-profile accidents to ignore, and there are some crazy statistics to support their involvement.

Consider the results of a Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll released a month ago, which asked how often people did certain things while driving. A surprising 18 percent of drivers say they send or receive text messages “often or sometimes,” with 37 percent admitting they have done so at least once.

Nine percent of drivers said they occasionally surf the Internet on their little devices — a process that would really take your eyes off the road. And 7 percent of drivers even watch an occasional video on their mobile device or vehicle entertainment system. I wouldn’t know where to begin with that one. Other surveys show that more than half of all drivers between 18-24 have typed or emailed from behind the wheel.

All while driving down the street behind you and me, or while coming toward us.

Even an international publication called The Tech Herald has called for a national ban and tougher enforcement, telling readers that mobile electronic devices now account for up to 25 percent of all vehicle accidents. Seems to me that when something called The Tech Herald calls for limits on the uses of technology, it’s safe to say there’s a problem.

Now, law enforcement has the power to enforce what should be common-sense behavior. Here’s hoping they do so.

Because no matter how attentive any driver may be, there’s just not much you can do about the other guy. Glen, Chad, Adam and Ed will only be there for you after the fact.

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  1. Thank you. It's good to see Nevada take at least a moderately strong position on this. Frankly, I think we're too well connected anyway and that I'm not certain that I've ever had anything so important to say that needed to be communicated while driving...

  2. Check out the companion Discussion @ http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jan...

    One thing missing here as well as there is consideration of how much of this state, like much of the West, is rural and empty. If I'm on my way north up either 95 or 93 and I get bars on my cell, and there's hardly and traffic, why does this law even begin to apply? So long as one exercises due care and caution out there, the danger is far more from a deer than a child darting out of a driveway.

    "This case illustrates that tragic facts make bad law." -- Wyeth v. Levine, 129 S.Ct. 1187 (2009), Justice Alito, with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Scalia join, dissenting.

  3. I think that the fines for both alcohol and cellphone DUIs should be much heavier. People scream about their rights being taken away but the bottom line is "where are my rights?" when one of these people leave their lane and hits me head-on. Make it $2000 for the first offense, put some real teeth into the law.

  4. "Make it $2000 for the first offense, put some real teeth into the law."

    Vorpalblade -- this profoundly short-sighted law was passed making violation a crime and all that implies. Local judges decided to raise the fine to $1k on top of the statutory fines. If you would stop jerking your knee and think it through you might just find the traffic laws to cover this have been in place for years (distracted driving, failing to use due care and caution, etc.) and it does impinge on protected liberties.

    "Is this 1984, or what?" -- the Honorable Alex Kozinski, now chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in the Unabomber case

  5. Let's get this straight from the top: driving a motor vehicle is not a "right", but a privilege granted by the individual state governments. The new law will not prevent imbeciles from driving while distracted, as it is virtually impossible to enforce. Technology exists that would make devices inoperable while in the vehicle. This technology should be implemented NOW. If you need to make a call, get off the road and do it. Nothing you have to talk or text about is worth MY LIFE, OR YOURS!!!