The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 7, 2013

Beckley leads in citations for texting drivers

CHARLESTON — In the first 10 months since a West Virginia law banned driving while texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone, 125 offenders have been convicted of doing just that.

The Charleston Gazette said the number of convictions was based on data from the Division of Motor Vehicles.

The Legislature passed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s distracted-driving bill last year.

Texting while behind the wheel is a primary offense. Drivers face fines of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second violation and $300 for subsequent offenses. Motorists also can 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. It will carry the same fines as texting.

“This last year, it’s been more about education and awareness. But the law is there for a reason, and police are certainly enforcing it,” said DMV spokeswoman Natalie Harvey. “Sometimes, just having the law in place is enough to change the behavior. It’s important to always have your eyes on the road. We’re in the business of saving lives and reducing injuries.”

The DMV and State Police don’t collect the number of citations issued to drivers for texting and cell phone use.

Statewide, the largest number of convictions, 13, occurred in Beckley Municipal Court. Berkeley County had a dozen and Kanawha County had 10 convictions.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Baylous said he’s seen a sharp decline in the number of texting drivers, but there’s “quite a few” who still talk on hand-held cellphones.

Depending on the incident, some troopers are handing out citations while others are issuing warnings.

“Our officers are using their discretion and good judgment,” Baylous said.

He called the texting ban “a step in the right direction. Anything that enhances highway safety, we’re for it.”

Motorists are still allowed to use cell phones to report accidents and other emergencies. Voice-command text messaging also would be allowed.

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