Police Cracking Down on Cell Use While Driving

WHEELING – Local drivers are either adhering to legislation banning handheld cell phone use or coming up with an effective way to avoid getting caught, Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler said.

On July 1, talking on a cell phone while driving joined texting while driving as a primary offense. For the past year, talking on a phone while behind the wheel had been classified as a secondary offense, meaning drivers could not be stopped for it. Now law enforcement can stop a driver for any cell phone use that is not aided by a hands-free device.

From July 1, 2012, when the legislation first went into effect, to June 30, Ohio County sheriff’s deputies cited nine drivers for either texting or talking while driving. Between July 1 and Friday, deputies had issued only one citation for violating the handheld cell phone ban, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Drage Flick said. That driver was texting.

Wheeling police officers issued 15 citations in the first year of the handheld cell phone ban. Between July 1 and Friday, officers cited 29 drivers, Lt. Phil Redford said.

“Why people feel the need to stay connected every second of their day – it just amazes me,” Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball said.

And he does not expect the law-breaking to cease any time soon.

Kimball believes drivers are going to be forced to take a hit in their wallets through citations before they change their behaviors.

West Virginia State Police do not keep track of citation statistics, but Sgt. Clint Lantz of the Moundsville detachment said a visible decrease in the number of drivers using handheld cell phones supports his belief that motorists are abiding the law.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation has installed 112 signs throughout the state alerting drivers to the hands-free law. Twenty-one signs have been installed at the state’s borders, while 91 are posted throughout the counties. Local roadways where signs are posted include Interstate 70, W.Va. 22, W.Va. 2 and National Road.

In Marshall County, Sheriff Kevin Cecil said his department has done “nothing special” to spot or cite distracted drivers. However, he did not downplay the severity and potential danger of the offense.

“Obviously it is an issue, probably more prevalent than many of the other issues we deal with,” he said. “But it’s now just part of our normal routine. … If we see it, we will act upon it.”

Violation of the hand-free law carries a $100 fine for the first offense; $200 fine for the second offense; and third and subsequent offenses will result in a $300 fine and 3 points against the driver’s license.