But public safety officers, such as police, fire and other first responders, still will be allowed to use cell phones as they always have.
However, each agency has come up with its own interpretation of how to use the law.
Some departments have put restrictions on cell use and some departments are continuing business as usual, allowing officers to use their cell phones by hand while operating their vehicles.
Since October, drivers have been getting used to the idea of not texting or talking without a hands-free device while operating a vehicle — actions that many drivers have found difficult, according to area departments.
The Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP) has warned more than 300 drivers in the area since the restrictions became enforceable. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Department reported Tuesday having issued some 70 warnings in its jurisdiction.
And, although first responders are exempt from the restrictions under the new state law, the NHP has instructed its officers to use Bluetooth accessories anyway, said Trooper Chuck Allen, spokesman for NHP’s Central Division.
“The Department of Public Safety statewide prohibits troopers from talking on phones (without a hands-free device) while driving,” Allen said. “We must use Bluetooth technology or hands-free technology. I use it all the time now.”
One issue drivers seem to forget, Allen said, is that they are still in violation if they are stopped at a traffic light and use the text or email features, or call someone.
“People think they’re not driving while sitting at a light,” Allen said.
In Washoe County, officers are still allowed to use cell phones for many reasons. The 6,000-square-mile district is full of obstacles and sheriff’s deputies are given a certain amount of discretion in their day-to-day work, said Assistant Sheriff Tim Kuzanek.
“Certainly, we don’t want to have our deputies using our cell phones in an unsafe manner,” he said. “However, there are circumstances that come up.”
Some of these instances happen during investigations, when deputies don’t want sensitive information spoken over radio frequencies, he said.
“That would warrant that whose communications should remain private,” he said.
Another would be during a search and rescue event.
“Often times, areas of the county are challenging,” he said. Bad weather, unfamiliar street names and desert areas are are some examples. In those instances, “communications by cell phones are more important,” he said.
Sparks Deputy Police Chief Brian Allen said some personnel have hands-free devices that they use, others do not, but it is not mandatory, he said.
“I hope for a couple of things. I hope it helps us drive more safely,” he said.
Allen said the Sparks PD has interpreted its own set of rules, yet has stayed fairly close to the letter of the original law set by the state Legislature.
A memo was distributed Tuesday to personnel explaining the rules.
“We only use cell phone in scope of employment and it has to be of an urgent nature,” Allen said. “If officers are going to use cell phones, we are requesting them to stop their vehicle, complete the phone call, if available to do so.”
Sparks officers are allowed to use “visor style” Bluetooth technology, which is a speaker attached to the visor of the car.
Officers are not allowed to use a headset or in-ear phone.
“They are prohibited. There is too much other stuff going on in the car. We don’t want to block any hearing of the officer,” Allen said.
Ability to hear is an officer safety issue, he said. With an earplug, the officer can’t hear everything else going on around him or her.
“If they are on the way to an urgent call, and the (phone) call is pertaining to that call, they can use their phone,” he said. “They can use a visor-style speaker to do that.”
Motorists who are caught after Jan. 1 face misdemeanor fines for the first and second offenses. A third offense can be a gross misdemeanor. If a person violates the law and causes the death of, or substantial bodily harm to, another person, the violator can be guilty of a category B felony and can go to prison, according to the statute.