The Times West Virginian

June 30, 2013

‘Turn it off, put it down and just drive’ proper state law

Times West Virginian

— West Virginia is serious about distracted driving.

The state Department of Transportation has a campaign slogan that says it all about the use of electronic communication devices while driving: “Turn it off, put it down and just drive.”

That’s more than good advice. It’s West Virgina law.

West Virginia, The Associated Press reported, is among 11 states that ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones and among 41 that bar them from texting, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It counted 3,331 people killed and another 387,000 injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, the latest year for agency figures.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute says that using a cellphone or texting while driving triples your likelihood of getting into a traffic accident.

It’s an unnecessary risk.

Last year, the West Virginia Legislature passed a law that turned texting-while-driving into a primary offense, meaning police officers can pull you over and issue you a citation if they see you doing it even if no other laws are beng broken.

Monday, driving while using a cellphone without a hands-free device will become a primary offense as well.

A citation for a first offense is $100. A second offense is $200, and third and subsequent offenses will each cost $300.

Until Monday, drivers in West Virginia can’t be stopped solely for violating the hands-on phone provision. It’s been treated as a secondary offense, meaning a driver has to commit some other violation to get pulled over.

The State Police issued 223 warnings and citations for that secondary offense June 16-22 as part of a multistate partnership aimed at reducing distracted driving-related crashes, 1st Sgt. Michael Baylous said Friday.

How important is it to do all possible to cut down on distracted driving?

Baylous referenced a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute suggesting the average time devoted to a text from behind the wheel is 4.6 seconds.

At a highway speed of 55 mph, that’s enough time to drive the entire length of a football field without your eyes on the road. That speed, of course, is exceeded on many roads, and even a much shorter period of failing to pay full attention while driving can prove disastrous.

It will be up to the individual officer to determine whether to issue a warning or a traffic citation.

“Just like any other violation, we’re going to be watching for it,” Baylous said, “and we’re going to address it in the proper manner.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is kicking off a safety campaign Monday at the Tamarack artisan center along the West Virginia Turnpike in Beckley. Tomblin has enlisted the State Police, the Department of Transportation and other agencies in what’s expected to be a multimedia public education program.

Transportation spokesman Brent Walker cited Division of Highways’ efforts to raise public awareness, in part by posting signs at all border crossings.

“It’s Highway’s role to provide safety to the traveling public,” Walker said. “We recognize that everyone has a role in highway safety.”

The focus may be on education early, but law enforcement has indicated that repeat offenders will certainly be cited.

Let’s use our common sense. No call or message is worth a traffic ticket or, much more important, loss of life.