The West Virginia Senate has approved a bill that would allow police to ticket drivers for texting or talking on their cellphones while on the road.
Monday's unanimous vote sends the bill to the House of Delegates, which is considering its own measure to curb distracted driving on West Virginia's roads.
Police could stop drivers seen texting, but they would need a primary offense, such as speeding, to stop drivers seen talking on cellphones. Drivers would be allowed to use hands-free technology to make calls or send texts. Police and commercial drivers using radios would be exempt.
Violating the prohibition on texting or talking on handheld cellphones would cost drivers a $50 fine.
Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 35 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, newly licensed drivers are banned in another 7 states (among them West Virginia).
Although talking on a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle is also considered dangerous, text messaging has raised the stakes to a new level.
More than one trillion text messages were sent worldwide last year. Of all cell phone related tasks, including talking, dialing or reaching for the phone, texting while driving is the most dangerous. For every six seconds of driver time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 seconds with their eyes off the road. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)
"Studies show texting while driving is about six times more likely to result in an accident than driving while intoxicated," remarked Tyler County Sheriff Earl P. Kendle, Jr. "The fact is, texting while driving is not only dangerous, it can be deadly."
Paul Green, research professor at University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute who has done a decade's worth of research on driver distraction, said "from the science so far, it's very clearly a problem. We don't have exact statistics yet, we have enough information to say that texting shouldn't be permitted while driving." (CBS News online)
Texting while driving statistics:
About 6,000 deaths and a half million injuries are caused by distracted drivers every year
While teenagers are texting, they spend 10 per cent of the time outside the driving lane they are supposed to be in
Talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver's reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old
Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. That is enough time to travel the length of a football field
Teens are a particular risk group, considering that according to Nielsen, the average U.S. mobile teen now sends or receives an average of 2,899 text messages per month. People under age 45 now send and receive three times more text messages than calls on their cell phones. Some studies indicate 75 billion text messages are sent per month in the United States.
The under-20 age group has the highest percentage of distracted drivers; 16 per cent of drivers under 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted when driving. The 30-39 year old age group had the highest percentage of cell phone use in fatal crashes. The percentage associated with distracted drivers jumped from 10 per cent in 2005 to 16 per cent in 2009. Of all distracted driving fatalities, 18 per cent were cell phone related.
A teen driver with one passenger doubles the risk of being involved in a fatal car crash. With two or more passengers, the risk increases to five times as likely.
It is estimated that almost half of drivers under the age of 18 admit to texting while driving. In 2007, driver distractions such as using a cell phone or text messaging contributed to nearly 1,000 accidents involving 16-17 year old drivers.
A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety revealed that motorists who use cell phones while driving are four times more likely to get into accidents serious enough to cause injuries.
Reggie Shaw never meant to hurt anyone, but his texting while driving led to the deaths of two men. The young man now tells his story to local schools in his area, as part of court ordered community service. Shaw served 30 days in jail as a result of the accident.
"I have to live every single day knowing that I took two families' husbands away from them," Shaw told students. "You do not want to go through this."
The National Transportation Safety Board has urged all states to ban drivers from using electronic devices while driving, after several investigations found texting to be the cause of deadly accidents.
"It's time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving. No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman.