The Times West Virginian

June 2, 2013

Is distracted driving in state decreasing?


Times West Virginian

— West Virginia phased in its distracted driving ban once the landmark bill passed last year.

In 2012, lawmakers passed and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a ban on texting while driving, which took effect immediately, and a ban on talking on a cell phone while driving, which becomes a primary offense within days.

The lag in time between the full effective date of the two new rules? It was a chance to get drivers in the Mountain State accustomed to the changes.

“This last year, it’s been more about education and awareness,” Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Natalie Harvey told the Charleston Gazette. “But the law is there for a reason, and police are certainly enforcing it.

“Sometimes, just having the law in place is enough to change the behavior,” Harvey told the newspaper. “It’s important to always have your eyes on the road. We’re in the business of saving lives and reducing injuries.”

The number of convictions within the past year on the texting ban seem minimal. According to DMV records, there have been 125 convictions since the texting ban took affect some 10 months ago. And of course, for those 125 convictions, there were probably many, many more citations written for the offense but were dropped for one reason or another.

But we still see it, don’t we? The tell-tale signs of a texting driver? The bright light coming from an otherwise dark car we’re following. The drift. The jerk back into alignment with the road. The 10-second delay at stop lights while someone gets a text or two in.

Those drivers are taking an expensive chance typing out a text while behind the wheel of a car. If they’re caught, they face fines of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second and $300 for any further offenses. And by your third strike, you can start losing points against your license.

Talking on the phone is against the law, too. But to date it’s been a secondary offense. That means that an officer cannot pull you over solely for using a cellphone while driving, but can cite you for the action if they’ve pulled you over for another reason — speeding, erratic driving, failure to maintain control, et cetera.

Sgt. Michael Baylous, the public affairs officer for the West Virginia State Police, told the Gazette that the laws are primarily deterrents, meaning that because there is a law on the books, most are apt to follow it. While he said he has seen a sharp decline in the number of texting drivers, there sure hasn’t been a decrease in cellphone use while operating a car.

But there’s hope that once it becomes a primary offense, that will change.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Baylous said. “Anything that enhances highway safety, we’re for it.”

So since that step quickly approaches, we thought we’d ask our online readers how effective the new primary offense law will be for using a cellphone while driving. On our online poll question, which can be found each week at www.timeswv.com, we asked, “The distracted driving ban will fully go into effect within weeks, banning drivers from using cellphones without hands-free devices. How effective will it be.”

• Bluetooths are flying off the shelves. People will take it seriously — 7.07 percent

• I’m sure most drivers will obey the law, but there will always be a few — 40.4 percent

• Right, because the texting ban has been soooo successful — 52.53 percent

We’re hoping for positives here, considering that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get into an accident than someone who is fully paying attention to the road. And really, there’s nothing to say that is that important that it cannot wait until you safely pull over or reach your destination.

This week, let’s talk about the ruling out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court that will allow Patriot Coal to change provisions in its agreements with the United Mine Workers of America on health care benefits and wages. What’s the next step?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor

mpoe@timeswv.com

@MistyPoeTWV