Dangers have always existed along the roadways for drivers, passengers and pedestrians. In years past, campaigns focused on the risks associated with traveling at a high rate of speed or driving while intoxicated.
Lately, we've been hearing more about distracted driving, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines as "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving." This can include eating or drinking, reading or using a cell phone, among other actions. However, since texting requires "visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction," the NHTSA says.
Last week, West Virginia joined 38 other states and the District of Columbia in making texting while driving a primary offense. After July 1, drivers who text can be pulled over and cited. Fines are $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $300 for the third offense.
The new law is the result of the passage of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Senate Bill 211.
State Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, sponsored a similar bill two years ago. However, a Charleston lawmaker made an amendment to include seatbelt use as a primary offense. While the measure won Senate approval, it was not taken up in the House.
Today Barnes says he's remained supportive of the bill because he often thinks about the information he received before presenting his version. "You can't argue with any statistics that texting creates such a hazard to other people on the highway," Barnes told The Inter-Mountain.
According to NHTSA statistics for 2010, 3,092 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver and an estimated additional 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.
It's time for drivers to put down their phones and keep their attention on the road. For those who don't, getting a ticket may be the least of their worries.