West Virginia Lawmakers Again Consider Phone Bans For Drivers

West Virginia lawmakers are trying once more to pass regulations on cell phone use behind the wheel. A previous bill, which would have banned texting and restricted other cell phone use, failed to pass in 2009. Proponents of the current bill, however, are upbeat and hope that cell phone restrictions will finally come to West Virginia.

The current House bill is less restrictive than previous versions, and its cell phone restrictions only apply to texting. Texting would be considered a secondary offense, meaning that police officers could not pull over drivers only because they were using a phone.

Those hoping for stricter handheld restrictions should not give up hope yet, though, as the House bill isn’t the only proposal making the rounds in West Virginia.

Senate Bill 52, introduced on January 13, would make simply holding a cell phone while driving a misdemeanor offense. Under this bill, first offenses would cost upwards of $100 and third offenses could net a $500 fine.

It remains to be seen, however, whether lawmakers will be willing to consider such strict terms — especially since less restrictive measures have already been voted down.

Still, even if lawmakers aren’t able to find an accord on cell phone use behind the wheel, West Virginia may yet fall under new laws passed at the federal level.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has already declared his intent to pass stronger cell phone restrictions and, on January 26, the federal government made its first attempt at a national ban. For truckers and bus drivers across the country, texting is now illegal.

The law, which is already in effect, swings a big stick: violators face a fine of up to $2,750 if ticketed.

Despite the threat of heavy fines, the law only applies to texting on handheld devices and not to other activities, such as the use of onboard computers in the case of truck drivers.

Even so, it shows that federal lawmakers are willing to regulate cell phone use on a national level. Other proposed laws, either restricting cell phone use or punishing states without handheld laws in place, are also making the rounds in Washington.

If West Virginia passes a texting law, it will join more than 20 other states where lawmakers have passed similar measures. Only six states currently maintain complete handheld bans behind the wheel.

West Virginia already bans cell phone use for drivers 18 and younger.

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