Stricter seat-belt rule advances in Nevada; use of red-light cameras defeated

| 5/2/2007

A couple of bills in the Nevada statehouse intended to make the state’s roadways a little safer are headed in opposite directions.

The Senate voted 11-10 April 23 to approve a bill offered by Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, that would allow for primary enforcement of the state’s seat-belt law. Currently, law enforcement in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

Failure to buckle up would continue to be a $25 fine.

The bill – SB42 – has been forwarded to the Assembly Transportation Committee for further consideration.

Opponents cite personal choice and the potential for racial profiling among the concerns about the stricter enforcement effort. Supporters say saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

If approved, Nevada would be in line for a one-time $5.4 million payment from the federal government. The 2005 federal highway bill gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules one-time grant money equal to 500 percent of the highway funding they received in 2003.

Senate lawmakers voted 15-6 to kill another bill offered by Nolan that would have allowed red-light cameras to be posted throughout the state. The cameras snap pictures of red-light runners’ vehicles and license plates. Tickets are mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless who was driving at the time.

Existing state law prohibits use of camera radar by law enforcement officers or agencies. The bill – SB61 – would have authorized a pilot program to allow cities and counties to use photo enforcement at certain traffic signals.

Supporters said the equipment encourages compliance with the law and saves lives by reducing collisions. Opponents question the claim that cameras are solely intended to keep people safe. Others question the effectiveness of such intersection cameras, arguing they have the potential to distract drivers and cause more fender-bender accidents.

In fact, a study paid for by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed rear-end crashes actually increased in cities with red-light cameras, as motorists stopped abruptly at yellow lights to avoid tickets.

The bill was amended in committee to require photos to capture images of drivers’ faces instead of solely vehicle license plates. Contractors processing tickets would have been prohibited from being paid based on the number of citations issued, The Associated Press reported.

The use of cameras for red-light runners would have been on a pilot basis for four years, with a review after two years by the 2009 Legislature.

Other provisions in the bill would have authorized fine amounts equal to the locality’s lowest parking ticket, plus the cost of operating the camera. Offenses wouldn’t have counted against driving records or insurance rates.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor