CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia legislators are considering bills that would ban texting and driving.
The House Transportation Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would take away the licenses of teenage drivers caught texting and would charge adults a $100 fine. Violating the proposed law would be a secondary offense that would require police to first stop drivers for another reason like speeding.
Meanwhile, a bill is moving through the Senate that would charge teens and adults the same penalty for texting while driving, reflecting changes Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin sought. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to make the texting violation a primary offense, which would allow police to stop drivers for texting.
Concerns over whether the violation should be a primary or secondary offense killed a similar measure last year. House Transportation Chair Margaret Anne Staggers, D-Fayette, predicted that a bill will go to the governor for his signature.
"It's going to be the will of the legislature and the executive branch that we will have a texting bill. I have no idea what it will look like," Staggers said. "I think the most important thing is that we make it unlawful."
Staggers supports increasing the penalty for teens. Taking away teens' licenses for violating the law may be the best way to convince young drivers to stop texting, she said.
"There's two ways to teach a developing brain. One is reward and the other is punishment. For most sixteen-year-olds that's a real good reason not to text," Staggers said.
The House version defines hands-free technology and clarifies that drivers must use their phones' hands-free options to avoid a ticket. The bill will also be considered by the judiciary committee before it could go to the full House for a vote.
Much of the debate however has focused on whether police can stop drivers they see texting and talking on their cellphones and whether such a law can be enforced if the violation is only a secondary offense.
"I would prefer it be a primary offense," said Delegate Larry W. Barker, D-Boone, before committee members voted Wednesday afternoon. "I do believe that this is a good first step."
Sen. Corey Palumbo, D - Kanawha, said he doesn't believe such a law would be enforceable as a secondary offense. He will seek to bump the violation to a primary offense.
"It's difficult to enforce just like the seatbelt bill. What you're trying to do is discourage dangerous behavior in vehicles," Palumbo said.
The governor however would sign a bill banning texting regardless if it ends up a primary or a secondary violation, said Jason Pizatella, Tomblin's policy director.
"We think it's a safety issue first and foremost. This isn't about giving people tickets. This isn't about raising money for the DMV and this isn't about clogging our municipal courts with tickets. This is about making sure drivers hang up and drive," Pizatella said.
Thirty-five states ban texting for all drivers and nine states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The safety administration estimates that 3,092 motor vehicle fatalities nationwide were related to distracted driving in 2010.