NHP issues 12k tickets for phone use while driving

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada Highway Patrol officers handed out nearly 12,000 tickets for hand-held cellphone use while driving in the first full year a statewide ban has been in effect, including 30 for second-time offenses and 25 for drivers getting their third citation.

While people seem to know the anti-distracted driving law exists, motorists still seem to think it's OK to check email or send a text message while stopped in traffic or waiting at a red light, troopers said Wednesday.

"Once you hold the phone in your hand and start using it, you've broken the law," said Trooper Chuck Allen of NHP's northern command.

Legislators passed the ban, which carries hefty penalties, in 2011. Troopers starting enforcing it with fines in 2012. In Reno and Sparks justice courts, a first offense carries a $112 fine, while a second offense could cost $192, and a third or subsequent violation could cost $352.

Beyond the first offense, a cellphone use ticket can put demerits on a driver's license, officials said.

Allen credits public education campaigns and media coverage for spreading the word about the law but says getting an increasingly technology-dependent population unglued from cellphones will take time.

Allen said he's noticed drivers holding their phones against the steering wheel, presumably talking into the speakerphone. Others try to text with the phone close to their lap to avoid troopers' eyes. And some have Bluetooth or other hands-free devices, but use the physical phone to search through a list of contacts.

All are technically illegal.

Allen said he hopes Nevada drivers will adjust to the new safety measure over time, just as they've become more accepting of wearing a seatbelt over the years.

"It's just going to have to be a disciplined habit," he said. "It's all about making the choice."

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