PARKERSBURG - Local Highway Safety advocates are pleased with West Virginia's new law that bans the use of handheld cell phones and texting while driving.
With the passage of Senate Bill 211, West Virginia became the 36th state to institute the bans. Under the new legislation, effective July 1, texting while driving will be a primary driving offense and talking on a handheld cell phone will be a secondary offense. Effective July 1, 2013, talking on a handheld cell phone will become a primary offense.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 5,500 people were killed and 448,000 injured in 2010 because of "distracted driving," which includes cell phone use and texting while driving. Of the fatalities, 18 percent involved the cell phone as a distraction.
The age group with the largest number of reported distracted driving incidents nationwide was those under 20, said Toni Tiano, coordinator for the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Highway Safety Program. Sixteen percent of all drivers 20 years and under involved in fatal accidents were reported to have been distracted while driving, she said.
"This new law is a great thing, the statistics show more and more people are texting while driving and talking on their cell phones," Tiano said.
The legislature went to the immediate problem of texting while driving, she said. It will be a secondary offense this year and a primary offense beginning July 2013, Tiano said.
Distracted Driving Information
- With the passage of Senate Bill 211, West Virginia became the 36th state to institute the bans.
- Under the new law, effective July 1, texting while driving will be a primary driving offense and talking on a handheld cell phone will be a secondary offense.
- Effective July 1, 2013, talking on a handheld cell phone will become a primary offense.
- Use of hands-free devices will still be permitted under the new law.
- In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated at least 28 percent of all traffic crashes at least 1.6 million crashes each year involved drivers using cell phones and texting.
- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 5,500 people were killed and 448,000 injured in 2010 "distracted driving," which includes cell phone use and texting while driving.
Parkersburg police Sgt. Greg Collins said tests have shown a driver who is sending or receiving text messages while driving presents more of a danger to themselves and others than drunken drivers.
"The key element to driving safely is keeping your eyes and your mind on the road. Text messaging keeps you from doing both of those," Collins said.
Technology has created a need for this law, Collins said.
"Unfortunately, we will likely wage this war for many, many years through public service announcements and enforcement efforts, just as we have done in our war against drinking and driving," he said. "Not everyone will get the message until something tragic happens close to them. So the next time you're tempted to text, tweet or email, either ignore the urge or pull over."
The legislation enhances efforts create and maintain a safe environment for motorists, West Virginia State Police Col. C.R. "Jay" Smithers said.
"Distracted driving increasingly seems to be the underlying cause of many traffic crashes, not only in West Virginia but throughout the country," he said. "This new law should be successful in preventing a great deal of loss to both property and human lives."
In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated at least 28 percent of all traffic crashes at least 1.6 million crashes each year involved drivers using cell phones and texting. NSC estimated 1.4 million crashes each year involve drivers using cell phones and a minimum of 200,000 additional crashes each year involve drivers who are texting.
"We now know that at least 1.6 million crashes involve drivers using cell phones and texting," said Janet Froetscher, president & CEO of the National Safety Council. "We know that cell phone use is a very risky distraction and texting is even higher risk. We now know that cell phone use is a factor in many more crashes than texting. The main reason is that millions more drivers use cell phones than text," she said. "That is why we need to address both texting and cell phone use on our roads."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin pushed for the cell and texting ban and after signing the bill into law he has been traveling the state to talk about the new legislation, including speaking to youth.
The governor is encouraging high school students to sign his new safe driver pledge, committing to use only hands-free devices while driving. The governor also unveiled a web page where all West Virginia drivers can make the same commitment.
"Both the bill and my safe driver pledge are about making our roads safer," Tomblin said. "I spoke with several heartbroken families who lost loved ones in car accidents caused by distracted drivers, and I assured them I was doing everything possible to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. Unfortunately, cellphones cause a real distraction - a distraction we can't afford on our roadways." Gov. Tomblin said. The safe driver pledge is available online at www.governor.wv.gov.