By Jessica Farrish
The tickets were written around the city, to young and old drivers alike.
During the recent “Turn It Off, Put It Down, Just Drive” campaign to reduce the numbers of distracted drivers on local roadways, Beckley Police cited 106 violations of the new handheld cell phone law, according to Lt. Paul Blume.
The recent law, backed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, made using a handheld cell phone device while driving a primary offense in West Virginia, starting July 1.
Patrols by officers across the region were increased from July 1 to July 15 as part of the kick-off of the new law.
According to Blume, officers in Beckley wrote citations throughout the city with no concentration in a certain area.
Blume said that while some drivers protested that they were unaware of the new law, most motorists showed support for it.
“Most of those pulled over were cooperative,” said Blume. “From time to time, you would hear people say, ‘I didn’t know that was a law.’”
The officer pointed to a year-long campaign, “Park the Phone,” which spread the message of the new cell phone laws across the region, via newspaper, TV, radio and billboard advertising.
“You pretty much had to have lived in a cave if you didn’t that know that distracted driving was going to become a law on the books,” Blume said. “That first entire year was to educate and inform the public of exactly what was coming.
“We didn’t want to sneak up on anyone,” he said. “We wanted the public to be well-informed about the changes that were coming.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin kicked off the “Turn It Off, Put It Down, Just Drive” campaign at Tamarack on July 1, citing statistics that distracted driving — any activity that takes a driver’s hands, eyes or attention away from the road — increases the number of crashes on state roadways.
Blume was slightly surprised by the number of drivers who were using handheld cell phones on the roadways, he said.
“I would have hoped it wouldn’t have been that many, but that just goes to show that we did put out the enforcement we were saying we were going to put out,” he said. “My hope is that they will adapt.”
He said that while he didn’t have official demographics, the problem was widespread, with tickets written in every age group of drivers.
“Pretty much everybody has a cell phone now, and they need to learn that they have to park the phone or use some type of wireless device while they’re operating a motor vehicle,” he said. “It’s a bad habit they’re going to have to break.
Enforcement is part of the key.
“There will be sustained enforcement throughout the year,” he added. “Officers on regular patrol will be paying attention to distracted driving issues.”
The increased patrols resulted not only in nabbing distracted drivers, but also in making arrests and citing motorists for other violations, as well, he added.
Blume oversaw a seven-county region during the “distracted driving” campaign.
Citations for using a cell phone while driving are $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $300 and points on the license for third and beyond offenses.
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