PARKERSBURG - Beginning Sunday, the bans on texting and using handheld devices while driving will go into effect.
West Virginia was the 36th state to institute the bans, with the passage of Senate Bill 211 this year. The legislation makes texting while driving a primary offense for drivers of all ages, and talking on a handheld cell phone a primary offense for drivers with a learner's permit or intermediate license. For all other drivers, talking on a cellphone while driving will be a secondary offense until July 1, 2013, when it will become a primary offense.
In Ohio, drivers will still be able to talk on cellphones while driving, but texting while driving will be a secondary offense, meaning the driver can be ticketed only if pulled over for another violation. The law prohibits minors in Ohio from using any electronic device while driving, with the exception of hands-free devices. The Ohio ban will go into effect September 1.
Sgt. Greg Collins, spokesperson for the Parkersburg Police Department, said enforcing the new laws may be challenging in some instances, but well worth the effort.
"It's a worthy fight," he said. "The evolution of technology as well as people's need for immediate communication has created a very dangerous and deadly situation on our highways."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3092 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver and an additional 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2010.
"Distracted drivers are generally easily identified because of the poor driving exhibited and numerous traffic violations being committed while distracted." said Collins.
Crossing the center line, running red lights, failure to signal, improper lane changes, and failure to go on green lights are a few common signs of a distracted driver.
"On the interstate and corridor, drivers who are on the phone will sometimes drive at a speed that is dangerously slow, and they will fail to merge for vehicles coming onto the roadway via entrance ramps," said Collins. "All of these things can and do cause accidents, and given the right conditions, they can cause death."
At least 39 states have enacted similar texting while driving bans.
"Because of our crowded streets and the large number of pedestrians walking on our sidewalks and crossing at crosswalks, we will take this new ban seriously," said Collins. "We have an enormous amount of vehicle traffic in Parkersburg, and in a lot of areas, they must run very close to each other. There is already no room for error."