Lawmakers to try anti-texting law again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislators will take another swing during the upcoming session to pass legislation to prohibit drivers from texting on cell phones.On Monday, the interim Select Committee on Infrastructure discussed a draft bill that would make it a misdemeanor for drivers to text in a moving vehicle, with fines of $50 for a first offense, $100 for second offense and $200 for third offense.The committee could not formally endorse the legislation, since four of the five senators who serve on the panel were absent. However, Delegate Dale Martin, D-Putnam, a committee co-chairman, said he plans to co-sponsor the House version of the bill."It's been proven in studies throughout the United States that ... other than drinking and driving, it's one of the most dangerous things you can do in an automobile," he said of texting while driving.State lawmakers have failed in the past two sessions to pass legislation intended to reduce incidents of distracted driving. In 2009, the proposed ban would have prohibited any use of cell phones while driving, which Martin said complicated matters."We want to keep it simple," he said. "We want to make sure it doesn't get bundled up with the cell phone bill that's been out there."
Martin said he believes the bill has a good chance of passage this session, given the publicity about the dangers of distracted driving.As drafted, texting while driving would be a primary offense -- meaning that police officers could pull over drivers for texting, without observing any other traffic violations. However, there would be no court costs or driver's license points assessed for a conviction.Under the bill, drivers who pull over to the side of the road to read or send text messages would not be in violation of the law.However, as currently drafted, drivers could be cited for texting while on a roadway, even if they were stuck in a traffic backup, and their vehicles were not moving."I think that's a problem," said Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, who said an amendment may be needed to exempt drivers who text while traffic is stopped because of an accident, road construction or other delays.In 2006, the Legislature passed legislation making it a violation for drivers under age 18 to use cell phones while driving.Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.
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