Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 1, 2013

Hands on the wheel

Texting now primary offense on the road

BLUEFIELD — When Gene Roddenberry and the creative staff of the “Star Trek” television series envisioned wireless communications devices, they probably didn’t think that people would still be driving “Tin Lizzies” when wireless communications became a reality.

The legislatures of both Virginias have passed laws to address the growing problem of texting and/or the use of electronic communications devices while driving. Starting today, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department will join with law enforcement departments statewide to step up their enforcement of the new cellphone use laws as part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s campaign called, “One Text or Call Could Wreck it All.”

Deputy A.M. “Adam” Ballard of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department has been compiling information about the new laws as well as the dangers of distracted driving. He said that law enforcement departments throughout West Virginia will be increasing patrols to specifically look for drivers who are either texting or using a cellphone that is not equipped with a hands-free device.

“Our department has 40 hours to devote to this effort,” Ballard said. “Distracted driving can be very dangerous. Some of the statistics can be rather chilling in terms of lost lives, but one fact included on the NHTSA’s website, (distraction.gov) points out that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent — at 55 miles-per-hour — of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.”

Ballard said that although the distracted driving law is now one year old, it changes to a primary offense today. “That means you no longer have to be speeding or driving erratically for us to pull you over and issue a ticket,” Ballard said. “I have had distracted drivers pass me on U.S. Route 460 while they were talking on a cellphone. When I stopped one of them, he said that he didn’t even notice me.

“With this kind of distracted driving, they’re just so wrapped up in what they’re doing that they don’t know what they are doing,” Ballard said. “A person like that can be just as dangerous as a drunk driver. Studies say that even hands-free devices can be a distraction.

“The push of a busy lifestyle can cause a person to multitask,” Ballard said. “There is a feature on the distracted driving website that shows the ‘Faces of Distracted Driving.’ It shows the faces of victims of distracted driving wrecks. You wonder why the face of a 13-year-old girl would be on there because she couldn’t even drive, but she was in a car that was hit by a distracted driver.”

Authorities in Virginia have also mounted a campaign to inform the public that texting and driving becomes a primary offense today. “This means officers, deputies and troopers can now stop you and issue you a summons because you were texting and driving,” according to an email message from Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt. Tazewell County sheriff’s deputies will be handing out 100 warning cards to texting drivers before issuing citations.

“We want to get the word out and let people know it is not safe or acceptable anymore to text or email while driving,” Hieatt said. In Virginia, the fine for a first offense texting charge is $125 and $250 for second offense.

Ballard added that on Tuesday, July 9, law enforcement officers in West Virginia can stop drivers for operating a vehicle if they are not wearing a seat belt.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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