By: Cesar Colon, Jenna Kees and Derek Rudolph
The West Virginia Legislature has a passed a bill that many say will save lives.
Gov. Early Ray Tomblin signed the texting bill that goes into effect on July 1st, 2012.
Texting while driving will be a primary offense and talking on a cellular phone will become a secondary offense on this date. On July 1st 2013, talking on a cell phone will become a primary offense for drivers on West Virgnia’s roads. A primary driving offense means a driver can get pulled over and ticketed. A secondary offense means that the driver has to get pulled over for another primary offense.
The original draft of the bill made texting while driving a primary offense, but made talking on a cell phone a secondary offense. The bill excludes the use of hands-free devices like Bluetooth headsets. The use of handheld radios such as CB radios for emergency workers and truckers are also excluded from the bill.
The House’s version of the bill passed on March 8. The House’s version included talking on a cell phone without the use of a hands-free device a primary offense for drivers.
Senate President Jeff Kessler,D-Marshall, said that he thinks it’s time for the law to be changed. The current law only states that drivers under 18 are not allowed to talk or text while driving.
“It’s hard to keep the wheels on the road while your eyes aren’t on the road,” Kessler said.
Kessler stated how, especially at high rates of speed, a “significant catastrophe” can occur.
Distracted driving is a hot-button issue, not only in the U.S., but in many places around the world. In 2009, AAA launched a campaign for distracted driving legislation and applauds the strictness of the law. Currently 35 states have banned text messaging while driving and nine states ban the use of handheld cell phones.
The House bill has fines for $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second, and $500 for each subsequent violation of the law. Drivers will accumulate three points on their licenses after the third and any subsequent offenses.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported over 5,000 deaths in 2009 due to distracted driving.
“Don’t – it’s not worth it,” Ed Preston, the chief of police of the Morgantown Police Department, said about texting while driving.
Preston responded to one traffic crash where the driver ran a red light while looking at his cell phone and was struck in his driver side door. He later died from his injuries.
“Distracted driving is dangerous, and when distracted drivers cause personal injury, property damage, or demonstrate unsafe driving habits there should be accountability,” Preston said.
Preston hopes that the legislation will motivate drivers into being safer on the roads but realizes that there will be some individuals who will disregard the law. Preston also says that the problem with distracted driving does not only lie with cell phone use. Preston says drivers who apply makeup, read a book, or play with satellite radio can be as big of a threat on the roadways as well.