The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 13, 2013

Police chief defends texting citations

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Since the West Virginia law banning texting and driving was passed last July, Beckley is leading in the number of citations issued to texting drivers, according to data from the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Beckley Police Chief Tim Deems said 17 citations for texting while driving have been issued so far; 10 of those were issued as a ticket and seven were issued as a warning.

Additionally, 51 citations have been issued for talking on cell phones while driving: 33 tickets and 18 warnings.

“Of course, the officers have discretion on that,” Deems explained. “They use their own judgment when issuing citations or warnings.”

He said his officers look for erratic driving, if someone has his or her head down, not paying attention to the road, swerving, going across the center line or driving slower than normal.

“Those are the kinds of things we look for, which can cause people to run red lights, run stop signs, cross into the other lane of traffic or rear-end another car in front of them.”

Deems said some statistics show that distracted driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. “It is a problem, and it becomes more and more of a problem with the popularity of cell phones and smart phones.”

He said the law behind texting also includes reading or entering numbers to make phone calls, pressing buttons on the phone to initiate or receive a call, and entering information into a GPS or navigation system.

Safety is the biggest reason these laws have been passed, Deems said, as the statistics are piling up on how many accidents are caused by distracted driving.

“It’s our job to enforce the law whether we like it or not, but in this case, I do believe it was something that needed to be addressed.”

Deems said he recommends always using a hands-free device while driving, but if you do not have a hands-free device, simply pull off the road in a safe location if you need to answer the phone or send or receive text messages.

Texting while driving is a primary offense, with a fine of $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $300 for subsequent violations.

Motorists can also get up to three points placed on their driving records for a third offense.

Using a handheld cell phone to talk becomes a primary offense July 1 and will carry the same fines as texting.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com