West Virginia Distracted Driving Laws
- Handheld ban for all drivers.
- Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
West Virginia’s Texting While Driving Stand
After it was amended, West Virginia Governor Tomblin’s ban on texting and using handheld cell phones behind the wheel was approved by both the Senate and the House. The House rewrote the bill to make texting and talking on a cell phone while driving primary offenses. The Senate, however, pushed for lower fines and for only text messaging to be a primary offense. It is unclear whether the Senate will accept the revisions made by the House.
While the new legislation seeks to put an end to distracted driving, the use of a hands-free device is still legal. Currently, there are only two prohibitions related to distracted driving. New drivers and school bus operators are not allowed to use cell phones when driving at all. Several are pushing to keep texting and driving a secondary offense. Secondary enforcement means that drivers must be pulled over for another offense. A driver could not be pulled over just for texting or holding a phone.
The bill preventing drivers in West Virginia from making phone calls and text messaging while driving, Senate Bill 211, carries fines starting at $50 and working up to $200 for multiple offenses. After three violations of the law, points would be added to the driver’s license. The House version of the bill, however, calls for fines ranging from $100 to $500. It currently waits in the senate for approval. In addition, there are several other bills that would seek to cut down on distracted driving. Senate Bill 47 would fine drivers just $25 for testing on the road. House Bill 2490 would make it illegal to text or use devices to connect to the internet. House Bill 4075 would categorize using a cell phone while driving as a reckless driving offense.
There is some reluctance for legislators to pass laws making it illegal to use any handheld electronic items behind the wheel. Some versions of the bill make exceptions for voice-operated applications, such as Siri for the iPhone. Despite the hesitation, many feel that there is a necessity for laws that prevent drivers from becoming distracted. West Virginia’s Trucking Association president spoke about the dangers professionals face each day when they are on the road. The president feels that many of these dangers are posed by drivers using electronics on highways. Many states feel the same and are adopting laws to put a stop to texting and driving.
The governor seeks only secondary enforcement of texting and talking legislation. The Roads and Transportation Committee of the House is not happy about this, claiming that it just is not practical. The committee wants to see bills that are more aggressive. Governor Tomblin said that if the House and Senate approve of making texting and driving a primary offense, he would likely sign it into law.
Some politicians are looking for more creative solutions to the dangers posed by drivers using mobile devices. One has considered offering incentives to those who install voice-activation devices in their car and penalties for those who cause accidents while using phones. The Senate and House continue to go back and forth on texting legislation in the meantime.
Distracted driving legislation failed to pass in 2011, making many West Virginians wary. Some have accused House members of lacking care for the significant number of deaths caused by electronics on highways. Several bills have died in the House that would ban using the internet, music devices or cameras on the road. There were similar results in 2010, with a bill banning texting while driving that died after it initially received much support.
In 2010, Senator John Unger sponsored two bills related to distracted driving. Both failed to pass. The year 2009 was also an unsuccessful year for texting and driving legislation. There were three pieces of legislation written in 2009. House Bill 2621 outlawed devices not using hands-free accessories. While versions of the bill passed, a senator made an amendment to the bill that caused support to fall back. Many House and Senate members criticized this movement. The bill died. House Bill 2995 and Senate Bill 131 offered similar prohibitions but they also failed. House Bill 2995, introduced by Jeff Eldridge, specified texting and talking as secondary offenses with a fine of just $25. The driver would never pay court fees or obtain license points, which may affect insurance costs. Changes were made to increase the fines but it never passed.
Politicians have talked about the way people have come to see distractions on the road. After a fatal train crash in California caused by text messaging, legislators are keener to draft bills to stop deadly distractions. A Kanawha County delegate named Nancy Peoples called for some of the earliest distracted driving legislation in West Virginia, House Bill 4047 in 2008. Comments on her blog were heated, but many offered their support by claiming that everybody is in danger when people are distracted on the road.