Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 8, 2012

Drivers that text while driving soon face fines

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Several bills that the West Virginia state legislature passed in the 2012 session will become effective on July 1, but perhaps none have received as much attention as Senate Bill 211. The bill was introduced by Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall and created a new West Virginia Code Section 17C-14-15 — a section that makes texting while driving illegal and temporarily makes using a cell phone while driving a secondary offense.

“I agree it is needed,” Jim Dent, a Mercer County Magistrate said. “There are people who are texting all the time, even when they are driving. I think it’s a needed law, but I think it will be hard for officers to enforce.”

Dent has seen the media reports that officers will start enforcing the law today, but he said that he has not yet received any definitive guidelines for magistrates to follow when cases are brought before them.

“I saw in the paper (on Thursday) that the law will come into effect on July 1,” Dent said. “Before that, I thought it was already in effect on June 1. I know that commercial drivers with CDLs have already had to get Blue Tooth, or hands-free units. Still, I think it will be hard to enforce.”

According to an analysis of the bill published on-line in the “C&W Journal,” the new law goes into effect on July 1, however the law, as it pertains to cell phone use, does not take full effect until July 1, 2013. Still, if a cell phone uses is arrested on a primary offense — for example speeding —  the arresting officer can also cite the driver for a violation of 17C-14-15.

“A secondary offense is like seat belt use is now,” First Sgt. John R. Pauley said. Pauley is the commander of Troop 6 of the West Virginia State Police. “Starting on July 1, a trooper can stop a driver suspected of texting, even though the driver is obeying the law otherwise.” Pauley said that, until July 1, 2013, troopers won’t stop drivers using cell phones unless they are committing a different primary traffic offense.

Pauley said that a driver convicted of first offense texting will be fined $100, no court costs. Drivers convicted of second offense texting while driving will be fined $200; and on third or more texting while driving offenses, drivers will be fined $300.

“Normally, we would have some time to adjust to a new law, but with the intense media coverage this law has been receiving we’ll be looking for drivers who are texting starting on July 1,” Pauley said. “It will be up to the arresting trooper to decide whether to issue a warning or a ticket on July 1.”

According to the C&W Journal analysis, the new law doesn’t prohibit drivers from using voice, mobile or two-way radios while driving. The law also provides an exception that drivers can use their cell phones while driving to report an accident or road conditions.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com