Grieving relatives were among those who urged Nevada legislators on Tuesday to ban cell phone use while driving.
Jenifer Watkins told the Senate Transportation Committee of an accident in 2004 in Las Vegas that left her and her husband, Richard, with permanent brain injuries.
"No phone call or text message is ever worth someone's life," Watkins' family wrote to legislators. "These preventable tragedies must be stopped, and they can be with the help of you."
The committee has been considering two bills. SB140 bans calling or texting while driving; it makes exceptions for calls using a hands-free device.
SB145 makes it a crime for a minor to call or text while driving.
"All but 12 states have imposed a ban on texting while driving," said Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, chairwoman of the committee. "I believe we need to join them. I think, as legislators, it's our responsibility to protect the citizens of our state."
Capri Barnes, 19, described the beeps of text messages and voicemails while she drives.
"Temptation is always there," she said. "I don't respond, but all my peers do."
About 53 percent of teens say they text while driving, according to a presentation from the Nevada Department of Public Safety.
Statistics from the department also point to distracted driving as the cause behind 57 fatal car accidents and more than 7,000 injury accidents between 2005 and 2009.
But it's often difficult to determine if a cell phone was behind an accident.
Orrin Johnson, testifying on behalf of the Washoe County Public Defender's Office, said current Nevada law already bans distracted
He discouraged lawmakers from pushing the ban further, saying it could lead to excessive stops by police as they try to determine whether a motorist is using a phone.
Nevada AAA supported a ban on texting but stopped short of supporting a full ban of hand-held device use, saying studies are unclear whether it's the physical device or the mental distraction of the conversation that causes accidents.
Families involved in accidents caused by cell phone use shared their stories at the hearing, along with pleas that the laws be passed.
SB140 was referred to a subcommittee to hammer out amendments, including provisions allowing for CB radio use.
The bills are among about a half dozen dealing with cell phones and driving that are likely to be considered this legislative session.
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