The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 26, 2014

Go low

Primary seat belt, distracted driving laws seem to be having an effect

— Along with the exceptionally cold temps that have squeezed southern West Virginia in their icy grip, there is another number dropping, as well.

And this one is something we can be happy about.

The West Virginia Southern Regional Highway Safety Program announced Wednesday there were 325 highway fatalities in 2013, the second-lowest number on record.

That is 13 fewer than in 2011 and 14 fewer than in 2012.

“Ain’t no big thing,” you might say.

We would disagree.

First, we would argue that fewer families were left to grieve the deaths of loved ones.

Another positive note is that it appears that changes effected by the Legislature last year are really making a difference.

In July 2013, the primary seat belt law, which permits police to cite motorists for seat belt violations without having to first stop them for another offense, took effect.

It took four years to pass this law and Beckley Police Lt. Paul Blume, coordinator for the Southern Regional Highway Safety Program, said that coupled with the passage of the distracted driving law, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that West Virginians are safer on the roads because of the new statutes.

Blume is fairly convinced — as are we — that these laws are making a real difference.

Drivers who are properly restrained and are giving their full attention to the highway before them should naturally be better able to react more quickly to changes in road conditions, weather and other drivers.

The need to be hyper-focused while out on the highways has been reinforced these past few weeks as Mother Nature has certainly put the hammer down on tough conditions.

Subzero temperatures that prevent anti-icing measures from working, blowing snow that reduces visibility, and snow-covered roads that leave us wondering whether we’re driving in the proper lane are just a few of the issues faced by winter drivers.

This is definitely not the time to have the cellphone out, texting an inane photo of what you just had for dinner.

Given the mess that has been left on the roads of late, we believe it is also appropriate to add other safe driving tidbits.

Slowing down is probably the best of those, but also remember to have properly inflated tires, good wiper blades, windshield washer and an emergency kit.

And when in doubt, stay home.