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Opinion

July 21, 2013

Time’s up: Stop talking, texting behind the wheel in West Virginia

The time is up.

The State of West Virginia gave its residents a year grace period to talk on their phones while driving. Well, it wasn’t legal, but it was a secondary offense. An officer could pull you over for speeding or some other moving violation and cite you for talking on your cellphone. But they couldn’t pull you over solely for the offense.

It was intended to give drivers the opportunity to train themselves to drive without using their cellphones or purchase hands-free devices.

But as of July 1, the time was up. Talking on your cellphone became a primary offense.

And still we see people chatting away on their cellphones on highways, at intersections, cruising down the street. You see, because your eyes are drawn to the offense.

But we wanted a little hard data to show just how many people were talking on their cellphones.

So we sent our reporters to the streets to do a little investigative journalism. We identified four busy intersections in the county and asked each reporter to carefully observe traffic in one lane for a one-hour period, count the number of cars that passed and make a notation of each “distracted” driver.

Scientific? Probably not. But we believe it gives a good sample to start from.

During the morning rush hour, a reporter was stationed at Water and Buffalo streets in Mannington. Of the 232 drivers who passed by, 32 of them, or 15 percent, were on their phones without a hands-free device.

At lunchtime, a reporter watched the intersection of Fairmont Avenue and Seventh Street in Fairmont. Out of the 586 drivers who passed our reporter, 36 of them were talking or texting while driving, totaling about 6 percent.

The East Side fared a little better. During the evening rush hour, a reporter counted 394 cars that passed by with 17 drivers on their phones, or 4 percent, at the intersection of Morgantown and East Park avenues.

White Hall drivers had the best record with 3 percent of distracted drivers during the evening rush hour at the intersection of U.S. 250 and the access road to Walmart. Out of the 664 cars that passed, 21 drivers were on their phones.

The study wasn’t intended to promote one region of the county over the other. It’s entirely possible that at different hours of the day, another region would have had the most “offenders” pass by our stationed reporter.

The point we’re trying to make is that despite given one year and three weeks to get used to the distracted driving law, there are still many drivers throughout the county who have ignored it.

The consequences? If you’re talking financial ones, a citation for a first offense is $100; a second offense is $200; and third and subsequent offenses will each cost $300.

Is that fine worth chatting about how busy your day was at work or what items need to be purchased at the grocery store?

But if you are talking about other consequences, there’s not a phone call on Earth important enough to justify an injury or loss of life.

You see, they call it “distracted” driving for a reason. In the few seconds it takes to dig your phone out of your purse or pocket, to see who is calling and to answer that call, the time it takes to dial a 10-digit number, anything could change within your environment that you are unaware of. A pedestrian could enter an intersection. A light could change. A car in front of you could suddenly stop.

The distraction of the phone could stop you from quickly reacting and adjusting to your surroundings. And those few seconds could end up costing a heck of a lot more than a $100 fine.

So our plea is to put down your phone while your car is in drive. Avoid the temptation by silencing the phone while driving. Pull over in cases of calls that cannot be missed. Invest in a hands-free device and use it safely.

We hope this particular law will be respected and lives will be saved because of it.

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