Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s quest for a ban on hand-held cell phones while driving surfaced Tuesday in both chambers, but it spells out such violations would be a secondary offense.
Which means a police officer must detect some other moving violation before writing a ticket, just as the law works in failure to fasten a seatbelt.
And that led Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, to suggest her House Roads and Transportation Committee likely will look at adding some teeth when the bill arrives there.
“You’re going to have to get subpoena powers to prove that they were texting,” Staggers said of the governor’s proposal.
“It doesn’t seem very practical. We have some other bills that we may pass out to see what they (committee members) think, so we have a choice.”
Tomblin devoted part of last week’s State of the State message to call for a ban on hand-held phone usage while talking and texting.
“I want West Virginians to remain free from distracted drivers on our public highways,” Tomblin said.
Later in the day, the governor said he preferred a secondary offense statute in an effort to “slow down” the process, but wouldn’t mind if the bill were made stronger.
“If they want to make it a primary offense upstairs, I’ll probably sign it,” he said.
For several sessions, Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, has sought a ban on the use of hand-held devices to communicate in traffic. None has ever reached the floor for a vote.
Staggers said advanced technology ultimately will resolve the problem.
“With the advent of smart cars, the next car you get will take care of all that for you,” the committee chair said.
“It will talk to you and say, ‘Are you coming back to Beckley tonight,’ and you will say, ‘Yes, I’m on the way.’ This is coming technology. Our hand helds will be pretty much obsolete.”
Until all cars rolling off the assembly lines offer such equipment, Staggers said a tax credit for any motorist adding the technology might be worth considering in this session.
After Tomblin’s speech, Guthrie was visibly pleased to see the governor now in support of a texting ban.
In case his bill runs into a snag, Guthrie has said she would sponsor one of her own.
“I’ve been through these land mines enough now to know where the trouble spots are,” she said.
Staggers agreed that a secondary offense could make it difficult to curb the trend of texting and talking on cell phones, since a driver would have to do something else in error first, such as cross the yellow line or run a traffic light.
Under the governor’s bill, the first offense would fetch a $100 fine. A second offense doubles the fine, and for third and subsequent violations, the fine climbs to $400.
“It’s also dangerous to have a 2-year-old in the backseat having a tantrum,” she said.
“We all need to remember that when we’re driving, we’re taking our lives and everybody else’s lives in our hands.”
Staggers said she wants to let the committee look at different approaches to the issue.
“We’ll pass it (Tomblin’s bill) out and see where it goes from there,” she said.
“But we may pass out some other bills, too. Then we have a choice.”
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