Even though the West Virginia legislature has decisively acted in an attempt to curb the practice, distracted driving persists on the state's roads. Lawmakers have taken several key steps over a period of years to discourage drivers from being tempted by distractions while behind the wheel, including:
- Prohibiting all drivers from texting behind the wheel
- Making it a primary offense (meaning that an officer can pull you over and cite you) for any driver in a non-emergency situation to use a handheld cellphone behind the wheel to talk, text or email
- Banning all novice drivers (those with a learner's permit or intermediate license, regardless of age) from using handheld or hands-free cellphones while driving
- Prohibiting all bus drivers from using a handheld cellphone or texting while operating their vehicles
The most recent law change came in the state's distraction-related statutes came less than a year ago (on July 1, 2013). That was when the state's new prohibition on handheld electronic devices went into effect. The ban was designed to stop the plague of distracted driving by forcing drivers to literally keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
Legislators felt that the dangers posed by traditional handheld cellphones was too great, particularly the ability to text, since it has been studied and found to be in essence a "perfect" distraction, one that occupies your mind, your vision and your hands for seconds at a time (something that, at highway speeds, could easily cause a crash), distracting you from the important tasks associated with driving. As a result, they passed the state's ban on any driver using a handheld cellphone behind the wheel. Doing so is now a primary offense, and can result in a citation and fine.
Why legislators acted
The thought behind the ban, obviously, is that people will be safer if they aren't using handheld devices to talk or text while behind the wheel. Theoretically, it sounds like the perfect solution. Unfortunately, new research (like that performed by the University of Utah in 2013) shows that using hands-free technologies to read or compose text messages or emails is just as cognitively distracting as sending them by hand. Your hands may be on the wheel, but your brain is so intently focused on interpreting what you are hearing and forming cogent responses that your reaction times and judgment are just as impaired as they were before.
With the ban on handheld devices being so recent, whether hands-free technologies will ultimately make the roads of West Virginia any safer remains to be seen. In the meantime, though, distracted driving-related accidents continue to happen at a startling rate across the state and the country. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 420,000 Americans were injured in distracted driving accidents in 2012 (statistics for 2013 are not yet available), with over 3,300 deaths.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a West Virginia car accident caused by a texting or otherwise distracted driver, you do have rights. Speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to find out more information about your legal options.