"Warning to West Virginia Motorists: If you text or talk on a hand-held cell phone while driving you could be pulled over, convicted and fined"
As the above quote notes, West Virginia's ban on texting or talking while driving is now in effect, with 125 convictions in the first 10 months of enforcement.
West Virginia Code § 17C-14-15 prevents, among other things, texting or using a cell phone while driving without hands-free use. While it is tempting to think that the penalties for a violation are not all that serious, please think again.
On February 20, 2011, 18 year-old Aaron Deveau's car collided with 55 year-old Donald Bowley's truck killing the father of three. Mr. Deveau was subsequently convicted of motor vehicular homicide and sentenced to two years in prison after prosecutors were able to prove that he was distracted because of texting while driving.
You should keep in mind that texting while driving could also lead to significant civil liability as well. Also, it's not just texting while driving that could lead to problems. Even texting to a driver could lead to problems. In fact, one New Jersey appeals court held that a person who knowingly sends a text to a driver can share liability for an accident.
The attorneys at Bordas and Bordas are proud to be members of the West Virginia Association for Justice, an organization dedicated to the promotion of safety through access to the civil justice system. Recently WVAJ partnered with End Distracted Driving to provide education programs to high school students about the dangers of distracted driving.
On this note, over the summer, my firm had the privilege of hiring Kaylee Miller, a sophomore at Wheeling Park High School. I asked Kaylee for her perspective on this issue. As she wrote:
As a teen, I, like almost all of my friends, are counting down the days until we can officially be licensed drivers. I always depend on my cell phone. Whether uploading a picture, downloading music, recording a video, or texting and messaging my friends, my phone is always with me. Unfortunately, as I begin my driving career I realize more and more how the phone could be more hazardous than helpful.
Texting and driving is now a criminal offense and the leading cause of death for teens with 2,700 deaths per year. With a schedule filled with homework, sports practices and any other extracurricular activity, a bill from the Sheriff is the last thing I need. According to WV Senate Bill No. 211, operation of technology without a hands-free device results in fines up to $500. Yes, $500 for just one offense. When I think of how many pairs of Uggs or Vera Bradley bags I could buy with $500, why on Earth would I risk my life and license to answer a lousy text?!
I, like a large portion of the population, have a smart-phone with an amount of settings just shy of 1.2 million it seems. Some of these settings, which I rarely pay attention to anyway, seem like the perfect solution to protect us from the temptation of answering the text tone. With airplane mode, for example, texts, calls and social media notifications of any kind are blocked for the time being. Not only does this save battery life, but when driving, it wouldn't even allow you to know of incoming messages. There's also a "Do Not Disturb" setting that only allows calls to come through on their second or third attempt.
By using conversion factors and my calculator (which of course was on my phone), I calculated that by just reading a text for 5 seconds at a speed of 55 mph is approximately 404 feet of distracted driving. And that's not even replying! Imagine yourself at 70 mph while everyone around you was distracted for 513 feet.
On that note, drivers of any age, 16 or 61, need to be aware of the new law. According to the WVDMV, in the first few months of effect, 125 people were convicted. More and more are unfortunately not caught. In reality, in the 10 minutes driving from point A to B, we don't need our phone even with all of its intriguing capabilities. A phone away could save your life today.
Let's all remind ourselves, our family members, and our friends that text while driving is a dangerous and unnecessary risk.