Last updated: April 5, 2014
Cell phone, texting news: West Virginia’s law against using handheld cell phones while driving is now subject to primary enforcement. About 286 citations were handed out in the first five months after the change, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program said in December 2013.
The law went into effect July 1, after a year of secondary enforcement in which police needed another reason to stop a motorist observed breaking the law. Safety officials credited the new policy with a reduction in highway fatalities.
The delay in primary enforcement for cell phone violations essentially was a warning period. Warnings continued after July 1, however, with police writing over 100 notices as of early December. Texting has been subject to full enforcement since both bans went into effect in summer 2012.
Legislators again in 2014 are considering a ban on Google Glass-style wearable computer monitors.
West Virginia was the 36th state to ban text messaging while driving.
- Text messaging and the use of handheld cell phones are illegal for all drivers in West Virginia.
- Teenagers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses are prohibited from using wireless communication devices while driving. Read the teen driver law.
- School bus drivers may not use cell phones while operating the vehicles.
Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200, then $300. Three points against the driver’s license on the third and subsequent convictions.
Distracted driving news (2014)
325 people died on West Virginia highways in 2013, the second-lowest number to date and a drop from both 2012 (339) and 2011 (338). A a state highway safety official said the new distracted driving laws and the primary-enforcement safety belt law helped lower the number: “I think these laws will make a real difference in the number of crashes,” Lt. Paul Blume told the Register-Herald on Jan. 23.
Distracted driving legislation (2014)
House Bill 3057: Would prohibit driving while using “a wearable computer with head mounted display” (as in Google Glass). Fines same as texting/handheld cell phones: $100 (first offense), then $200 (second) and $300 plus 3 points (third). Would be a modification to existing distracted driving law. Refiled (with same number) from 2013. (Howell)
2013 distracted driving news
A spokesman for the Governor’s Highway Safety Program says electronic distracted driving is probably “the No. 1 contributor to crashes” in West Virginia.
Full enforcement is in effect for violators of the state’s distracted driving laws, but House Minority leader Tim Armstead worries about “a lot of ambiguities in the law. We have to see how it plays out and is enforced, Armstead, R-Kanawha, told the Register-Herald.
Delegate Nancy Guthrie, who started pressing for distracted driving legislation back in 2008, said the enactment of full enforcement proves “if you stick with something long enough, no matter if it’s got your name on it at the end, if you push it and keep pushing, somebody will carry it across the finish line.”
“This last year, it’s been more about education and awareness,” a DMV spokeswoman told the Charleston Gazette. “Sometimes, just having the law in place is enough to change the behavior,” she said.
125 West Virginia drivers were convicted of electronic distracted driving in the first 10 months of the state’s texting & talking law. The count is expected to increase now that use of handheld cell phones is a primary offense July 1.
Del. Gary Howell says he was inspired to file legislation that would pre-emptively ban Google Glass and similar technologies by reading advance articles about the wearable computers. Responding to those who said the visual displays would be similar to head-up displays already used in planes and cars, Howell told PC magazine March 25: “I doubt a fighter pilot will ever watch a video or receive text from his girlfriend on his HUD.”
Howell, R-28th District, said one reason he filed the attention-getting HB 305 was “to increase awareness that when driving, you should be concentrating on driving.” The legislation did not advance in the 2013 session, however. The Google glasses would be allowed under the state’s distracted driving laws.
Howell told several media outlets in late March that his bill was inspired by articles on the so-called Google Glass. Its use would be illegal under the plan because it “projects visual information into the field of vision of the wearer.”
“The youth in our society are those that are most likely to try new technology, and they are also our less skilled drivers,” Howell told PC magazine. “That is a bad combination.”
The conservative lawmaker is a longtime car racer and builder.
2013 distracted driving legislation
House Bill 3057: Would prohibit driving while using “a wearable computer with head mounted display” (as in Google glasses). Fines same as texting/handheld cell phones: $100 (first offense), then $200 (second) and $300 plus 3 points (third). Would be a modification to existing distracted driving law. (Howell)
2012 distracted driving news:
West Virginia’s ban on text messaging and the use of handheld cell phones while driving technically became effective June 1, 2012, and the Governor’s Highway Safety Program spent the early summer educating the public on West Virginia’s distracted driving law. Enforcement began July 1.
The law makes text messaging and handheld cell phone use while driving primary offenses. While text messaging will be subject to primary enforcement as of July 1, the cell phone enforcement will be limited to secondary status for another year. That means police will need another reason to stop and cite motorists using handheld cell phones until July 1, 2013.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin marked the April 3o signing of his 2012 distracted driving legislation with a visit to several high schools and the promotion of a new state safe driver pledge. He handed out finger guards, supplied by AT&T, that make it impossible to text when they are worn. On a more somber note, he said: “I spoke with several heartbroken families today who lost loved ones in car accidents caused by distracted drivers, and I assured them I was doing everything possible to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.”
The last-minute compromise reached on the governor’s distracted driving legislation had the Senate agreeing to budge on primary enforcement for both texting and handheld cell phone use, while the House agreed to delay its preferred primary enforcement for a year. “This will give people time to adjust,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo told the Charleston Gazette. “We feel texting while driving is a much more serious thing.”
Tomblin’s original plan was for secondary enforcement of the distracted driving laws.
Legislative leaders who compromised in accepting Tomblin’s requested legislation indicated their intention was to immediately crack down on texting — widely seen as the more dangerous practice — while giving cell phoning drivers some time to adjust to the new distracted driving laws.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo told the Charleston Daily Mail that he expected the distracted driving legislation to succeed, but more revisions could be coming: “I’m not sure the Senate will just accept what the House did.” In the end, they compromised and the legislation advanced to the governor’s desk.
House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley said his committee decided to make handheld cell phone use a primary offense for “practical implementation” of the distracted driving laws by police.
The House Judiciary Committee decided to simplify the governor’s distracted driving plan to make all use of handheld electronic devices illegal for drivers, but had to reconsider and reject its change. “We’re afraid that if we adopt this amendment we’ll do major damage to this bill and ruin its chances of passage,” said Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha. The committee did make handheld cell phone use and texting both primary violations and inserted an exemption for voice-controlled technology such as the iPhone’s Siri.
Tomblin promoted his distracted driving legislation Feb. 8 with a show of solidarity from the National Transportation Safety Board and a truckers organization. “You’re making this into a political priority that it needs to be,” NTSB vp Christopher Hart said at the governor’s press conference. The president of the West Virginia Trucking Association spoke of the dangers presented to professional drivers as a result of people texting while behind the wheel.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved its toughened version of Tomblin’s Senate Bill 211 (Sub2) on Feb. 1. The measure went before the full Senate and was approved there in a 34-0 vote Feb. 6.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said during the final Senate vote on SB 211: “(With) a primary offense (for texting) people have more of a realization that this is something they have to follow.”
Wording of the governor’s distracted driving bill caused some heads to spin on the House Roads and Transportation Committee. “Are we all thoroughly confused?” the panel’s chairman asked Jan. 18. The chairman, Delegate Margaret Staggers, said the governor’s plan for secondary enforcement “doesn’t seem very practical” and indicated her committee would consider bills with more teeth.
Gov. Tomblin said Jan. 18: “If they want to make it a primary offense … I’ll probably sign it.” An aide to Tombin said the secondary enforcement tag on the governor’s bill was designed to avoid points against a violator’s driver’s license.
Staggers, D-Fayette, is looking for alternative ways to stop West Virginians from driving while distracted. She says she finds merit in tax incentives for voice-activated hardware installation as well as additional penalties for distracted drivers who cause accidents. As for a ban on the use of handheld cell phones, “I don’t know if you can outlaw stupidity,” the Transportation Committee chairwoman told the Register-Herald Reporter.
Staggers says she sees “a good compromise” in a Republican plan that would provide for additional penalties for drivers who cause accidents if they were using a cell phones at the time.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Corey Palumbo says the governor’s support could end the annual legislative back-and-forth on texting and handheld cell phone laws.
Gov. Tomblin said in his address to the Legislature on Jan. 11: “With the advent of iPhones, BlackBerries, 4G networks, and texting, the number of people who are using mobile phones while driving has and continues to increase. And, with that increase, there has been an equally dramatic increase in the number of driving fatalities where distracted driving was involved. … “I want West Virginians to remain free from distracted drivers on our public highways.”
The Charleston Daily Mail called the governor’s plan for secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws “a modest, sensible approach that would not be unnecessarily intrusive and would not unnecessarily criminalize people.”
At least eight distracted driving bills were introduced for the 2012 legislative session.
2012 distracted driving legislation
Senate Bill 211 (original version, see Sub2 below): Would prohibit drivers in West Virginia from using wireless communication devices without hands-free equipment. Includes texting and cell phone calls. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200, then $300. Three points vs. license third and subsequent convictions. Secondary enforcement only. Novice driver restrictions on cell phones and texting would remain, with primary enforcement. Amended and approved unanimously by the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Jan. 24. Amended and approved by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 1. See SB 211 Sub 2 below. Approved by the Senate in a 34-0 vote on Feb. 6 and then approved by the the House in an 87-12 vote March 9. Approved unanimously by the Senate on March 10 and by the House in an 86-13 vote. Sent to the governor. Latest legislative action: Signed by the governor April 3. Goes into effect July 1, 2012. (Kessler, Hall as requested by governor)
- Senate Bill 211: final version — Would prohibit drivers in West Virginia from using wireless communication devices without hands-free equipment. Includes texting and cell phone calls. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200, then $300. Three points assessed against driver’s license on third and subsequent violations. Primary enforcement, but cell phones secondary for first year. Also requires advisory signs at state border. Approved March 10 and sent to the governor. Takes effect July 1, 2012.
- SB 211 Sub2 changes: Makes texting subject to primary enforcement, but enforcement of the handheld cell phone law secondary. Fines $50, $100 and $200. Three points assessed against driver’s license on third and subsequent violations.
- House version of Senate Bill 211: As above, but amended March 6 to primary enforcement for texting and handheld cell phone use. Fines increased to $100 (first offense), $200 and $500. Also requires advisory signs at state border. Approved by the House Transportation Committee on Jan. 25. Amended and approved by the House Judiciary Committee on March 6. Latest legislative action: Approved by the House in an 87-12 vote taken March 9. Returned to the Senate.
House Bill 4091: Would prohibit drivers from using wireless communication devices without hands-free equipment. Includes texting and cell phone calls. Fines: $100 (first offense), then $200, then $400. Secondary enforcement. (Thompson, Armstead as requested by governor)
SB 47: Would prohibit text messaging while driving. Fine: $25. No points. (Beach)
SB 79: Seeks to ban text messaging while driving. Fines: $50, then $100, then $200. No points. (Unger)
House Bill 2490: Would prohibit text messaging by drivers as well as “additional technology activities” (Internet, music, games, etc.) using handheld mobile communication devices. Fines: $250, then $500, then $1,000. (Miley)
HB 4005: Would prohibit text messaging by all drivers. (Frazier)
HB 4075: Would outlaw use of handheld wireless communications devices by drivers, including cell phones. Hands-free OK if driver “exercises a high degree of caution.” Categorized as “reckless driving offense.” (Guthrie)
2011 distracted driving notes
The House approved a text messaging ban in February but in a heavily amended form that only provided for secondary enforcement. HB 2555 won handily (92-5) but died in the Senate as time ran out on the session.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo said of the failure of distracted driving legislation in 2011 “tells me there’s very little concern for all the deaths on our roads in the House.”
Senate Majority Leader John Unger charged there was “chaos” in the House in the final days of the session: “None of our bills died in here (the Senate). They died over there.”
Upon HB 2555′s approval in the House (Feb. 17), Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, said: “I’m totally disappointed and discouraged. … As long as it’s not a primary offense (to text and drive), it’s just a worthless piece of paper.” He voted for the bill anyway
The HB 2555 proposal for a texting ban was trashed in the House Judiciary Committee, with the delegate who wrote the panel’s amended version calling the original “one of the worst bills I’ve ever seen.” Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, says, “I think we need to go back and do a hands-free law,” Hunt said. He expects quick introduction of a rival bill that would ban handheld cell phones. Ironically, the bill’s sponsor eliminated a cell phone ban to increase HB 2555′s chances of passing.
Delegate Dale Martin, D-Putnam, is lead sponsor of the HB 2555 texting ban. Martin is chairman of the Roads and Transportation Committee. The original bill was modeled using U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines, Martin said.
“It’ll have a better chance of passing (than 2010′s HB 4013), Martin said (prior to the Judiciary Committee’s amendments). “I think the public is more aware of the hazard.” HB 4013 called for a ban on use of handheld cell phones, which complicated passage, Martin says.
The Select Committee on Infrastructure considered an earlier draft of the texting legislation in late December.
2011 distracted driving legislation (dead)
House Bill 2490: Seeks to ban text messaging by all drivers. Also cites “additional technology activities” requiring use of hands while driving, such as accessing the Internet, playing MP3s and using cameras. Excludes cell phones. Fines: $250 (first offense) then $500 and then $1,000. (Miley)
HB 2555: Would outlaw text messaging while driving via wireless communications devices. Fines $50 (first offense), then $100 and then $200. Also cites Internet use but excludes the entering of phone numbers for cell phone calls. No points. House Judiciary Committee substitute of Feb. 10 made significant changes: Bill now call for secondary enforcement; changes offense from misdemeanor to infraction; changes fines to $100/$200/$400. Latest action: OK’d by the House in a 92-5 vote on Feb. 17. (Martin)
Senate Bill 209: Would prohibit text messaging for all drivers in West Virginia. Primary enforcement. Misdemeanor. Fines $50 (first offense), then $100 and then $200. No points. Same as original version of HB 2555, above. (Unger)
SB 470: Would prohibit text messaging while driving. Includes Internet use. Primary enforcement. Misdemeanor. Fines $50 (first offense), then $100 and then $200. No points. Similar to SB 209/HB 2555. (Unger)
2010 cell phone, texting legislation (dead)
An Interim Joint Committee on Roads and Transportation developed HB 4013 for the 2010 session that would ban both text messaging and handheld phone use for drivers. In a compromise, the bill calls for texting while driving to be a primary offense, but use of a handheld cell phone would be a secondary offense. Meaning a law officer could pull over a driver solely for text messaging, but would need another reason to stop a violator talking on a cell phone. The compromise emerged from the committee on Dec. 9, 2009, after a good deal of debate. Update: The bill had traction but failed to advance in 2010.
Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, says she’s not sure she’ll be lead sponsor of the distracted driving bill this year. Guthrie saw her bill on texting and cell phoning die on the last night of the 2009 regular session, and now says, “I may let someone else introduce it and try to run it through the judiciary committee.” She wanted primary enforcement for both distracted driving offenses in the 2011 plan (above), but said she was “realistic enough to know that this is a start.”
Earlier this fall, Delegate Guthrie told HandsFreeInfo.com: “The question before the committee is whether or not to reintroduce last year’s legislation or strip out restrictions on cell phone use and only try to pass a bill restricting texting.” She called the idea of stripping out cell phone restrictions “stunning.” The secondary enforcement provision of the new bill was a compromise that kept the handheld cell phone ban alive.
Under the bill, text messaging would bring fines of $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $200 after that. Cell phone penalties would be $25, $50 and $75.
Gov. Joe Manchin says he supports a ban on driving and text messaging on West Virginia roads and highways. Motor Vehicles Commissioner Joe Miller lobbied for the draft legislation, noting that cell phone-related deaths fell by hundreds in California after its ban was enacted.
HB 4013: Would ban drivers from text messaging and the use of handheld cell phones, meaning hands-free accessories would have to be employed. Secondary enforcement. Fines of $25. (Guthrie)
HB 2995: Would prohibit text messaging while driving. Fines $100/$200/$500. (Eldridge)
HB 2141: Would prohibit drivers under age 18 with level 1 and 2 licenses from using all wireless communications devices. Secondary enforcement. Fines $25/$50/$75. (Romine)
West Virginia Senate Bill 438: Would make text messaging while driving a primary offense and use of a handheld cell phone a secondary offense. Fines for texting $50/$100/$200. Fnes for using cell phones without a hands-free device $25/$50/$75. No points. Similar to HB 4013, above. (Unger)
SB 167: Seeks to prohibit all drivers from texting while driving. Secondary enforcement. Fines up to $100. Up to 3 points. (Unger)
SB 52: Would outlaw use of cell phones while driving unless a hands-free attachment is employed. Fines $100/$200/$500 no points. (Guills-Foster)
SB 367: Seeks to outlaw use of “additional technology” for handheld devices that provide access to digital media content such as text messages, e-mail, the Internet and games. Fines $100/$250/$500. (Minard)
2010 legislation notes
“I think House members, having passed legislation last year to curb texting and cell phone use while driving, will be very receptive to a similar bill emerging from the Senate,” House Speaker Rick Thompson told the Herald-Dispatch. “I will be interested to see exactly what the Senate produces.”
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, sponsor of two distracted driving bills, noted: “There are folks who are advocating the ban of cell phones altogether in use on the roads,” Unger said. “We’ll see what comes out of committee. … I think (SB 438) has a pretty good shot at passing.”
“Even Oprah is pounding on this,” Unger said of distracted driving laws.
The 2009 legislation that was approved by the House failed to get through the Senate because of an unrelated last-minute amendment.
2009 cell phone, texting legislation:
HB 2621: Would have outlawed use of a wireless handheld communications device unless a hands-free accessory is attached. Included cell phones and text messaging devices. Versions were approved by the West Virginia House on March 27, 2009, and by the Senate on April 9, but died on the final night of the session due to an unrelated amendment tacked on by a senator.
HB 2995: Would prohibit text messaging while driving. Fines $100/$200/$500. (Similar to SB 131) Note HB 1876 above. Note: Carried over to 2010 session.
SB 131: Would prohibit drivers from using cell phones on West Virginia roads unless a hands-free device is employed, such as a headset or speaker system that does not require the use of hands.
2009 legislation notes:
State Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, plans to introduce legislation in 2010 that would ban text messaging and use of handheld cell phones while operating a motor vehicle in West Virginia. (Update: SB 52, above.) He supported similar legislation in 2009.
The 2009 legislation that was approved by the House was sunk in the Senate by a last-minute amendment regarding cell phone tower placements. “”It was just one of those thoughtless amendments that a member put in without considering all the work the three committees had put into the bill,” Delegate Guthrie said.
2009′s anti-text messaging bill HB 2995 was introduced in mid-March by Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln. It calls for secondary enforcement, meaning drivers could not be pulled over solely for text messaging or using handheld cell phones. The fine will be $25 with no driver’s license points or court costs.
Under SB 131 and HB 2995, fines would start at $100 and increase to $500 with three violations. No points would be assessed on the West Virginia driver’s license. Under HB 2621, fines would be capped at $25 with no points.
Gov. Joe Manchin proposed a ban on text messaging while driving, in response to the Los Angeles commuter train crash. “Texting, cell phones, all this,” Manchin told the Charleston Daily Mail. “I think it’s come to the point now that we see how distractive they are.”
Manchin later told the Register-Herald: “Some legislators asked me my opinion on (West Virginia cell phone and texting legislation). “It makes sense to me. I’m the one who is as guilty as anybody.”
Previous cell phone, texting legislation
In the winter 2008 session, the House narrowly approved a bill that would have made using a cell phone while driving a secondary offense, but it died in the Senate. Kanawha County Delegate Nancy Peoples’ cell-phone legislation inspired plenty of public debate. (HB 4047: Would require drivers to use hands-free devices while making cell phone calls. Drivers’ use of text-messaging devices would be prohibited. School bus drivers would be prohibited from using cell phones.)
“The facts are indisputable. Distracted driving puts all of us in danger,” Peoples wrote on her blog. “This legislation will give us a means to begin gathering data on how many accidents result from drivers who become distracted while using cell phones.”
Sen. Jeffrey Kessler, head of the Judiciary Committee, joined other lawmakers in the 2008 session seeking a ban on texting while driving.
The school bus driver ban on cell phone use was enacted in September 2008 by the state Board of Education.