For the first time since West Virginia's distracted driving measure took effect in July, authorities in Tyler County issued a citation last month for texting while driving.
The law, which took effect July 1, stipulates drivers can be cited for hands-on cell phone use. However, that violation alone cannot trigger a traffic stop. Hands-on cell phone use becomes a primary offense, one that can get a motorist pulled over, starting in July 2013.
In an effort to promote the new law, the West Virginia Department of Transportation will implement road signs, speaking to high school students and updating the Division of Motor Vehicles' driver license handbook to let individuals know that they should learn to not use such devices while driving.
With the recently-enacted distracted driving law now in effect in West Virginia, law enforcement officials have been paying close attention for signs of drivers not obeying the guidelines. (Photo by?J.W. Johnson Jr.)
In the meantime, law enforcement officials are learning how to spot such violations. According to Tyler County Sheriff Cpl. Shannon Huffman, the types of violations that would cause a person to be pulled over as a primary offense typically have a direct correlation to the use of a cellular device.
"A lot of times we see people going left of center and they look distracted or they aren't looking ahead of them when we pass them," he said.
Huffman said another obvious dead giveaway happens at night, when the interior of the vehicle is lit up by the device's screen. He said while officers are now paying attention more closely for violations, it has not required any special training or additional work to identify potential hazards.
"It really is just common sense," he said.
In July, Huffman initiated a traffic stop for an individual who had driven left of center. When Huffman approached the vehicle and asked the individual why he was driving erratically, the individual admitted to using a cell phone while driving, which added an additional citation.
"In that instance, it happened because the guy admitted to it," Huffman said. "It won't always be that simple."