Distracted driving (especially through cell-phone use) is a high-profile safety issue many state governments grapple with each year. West Virginia’s Department of Highways reports that in 2009, more than 400 accidents were attributed to cell-phone use or other electronic distractions, such as iPods or GPS devices.

In 2009, 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, passed legislation making it a moving violation to place a cell-phone call (without using a hands-free device) or to transmit a text message while driving. In fact, recently proposed federal legislation would require states to collect data regarding cell-phone use and text messaging in accident reports to qualify for certain federal funding. This year, many states have pending bills banning text messaging while driving on their dockets.

Current West Virginia Text-Messaging Law

West Virginia law currently does not makecell-phone use ortexting while drivinga primary offense. Drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using cell phones while driving as per the state’s graduated licensing system, but the statute makes no specific reference to text messaging. However, mounting political pressure prompted the state Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to propose amendments to West Virginia’s current distracted-driving statute directed at drivers under age 18, to include texting as a misdemeanor for all motorists.

Senate Bill 167

Like any other piece of legislation, the anti-texting bill raised questions and criticisms. For instance, committee members debated whether the current statute already covered such offenses. If it was already illegal to use a hand-held mobile device, was it necessary to delineate phone calls from texting, as both activities take the driver’s eyes off the road? Further, lawmakers were unsure of how the offense would be enforced. Many cell phones automatically display incoming text messages without any action from the receiver. Because of this, would a record of incoming messages be actionable during a stop for another offense?

Current Status of West Virginia’s Texting-While-Driving Bill

These and other questions were not answered when the bill was not addressed by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. Speculation abounds as to why the bill was never placed on the agenda, or why it was not debated on the Senate floor. While the bill is dead for now, lawmakers hope that it will be addressed if Governor Machin calls a special session. Meanwhile, texting while driving will continue to be a priority issue as it receives increasing attention from insurers, cellular service providers, doctors, law enforcement and safety advocates alike.