Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 6, 2013

Cell phone use: Local police working to enforce new driving laws

KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — With new texting laws nearly a week old, law enforcement officers said it may take a while for motorists to learn to hang up and drive.

Using a hand-held cell phone to talk while driving became primary offense in West Virginia Monday while texting while driving became a primary offense in Virginia. Texting while driving has been a primary offense in West Virginia since last year.

Officers on both sides of the state line have been working to enforce the new laws, especially during checkpoints as part of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Cpl. S.A. Sommers with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office said several citations have been issued in the first five days since the hands-free law was passed.

“We have had four officers putting in four hours of overtime each day since the law was passed to do enforcement checks for the new law,” Sommers said. “They have already made numerous traffic stops just on people using cell phones. Even though the law was passed two years ago, talking on the phone just became a primary offense, which many people have not realized.”

Sommers said cell phones have become so ingrained in our culture many people don’t think twice before picking one up while on the road.

“People have been using cell phones for so long it is hard to get used to not using one,” Sommers said. “Even police officers have to remember to set aside their phones. We think it will take about six months for any hard data to come out showing this is really working. Hands-free devices are still expensive, so many people haven’t gone out and bought them.”

Though law enforcement officers are exempt from the new law in the case of emergencies, Sommers said he believes further bans extending to emergency personnel are on the horizon.

“I know it frustrates some people to see law enforcement using their phone, but the law has made exemptions for law enforcement due to emergency situations,” Sommers said. “We officers use or cell phones a lot, but a lot of times that is to call 911 to report things we don’t want transmitted over police scanners or radios. We do it for people’s protection. We will probably see state and department regulations that change how and when we can talk on our phones as well soon.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com