WVU researchers weigh in on distracted driving

Local - 3/7/2013 5:23 PM by Rebecca Turco
BECKLEY - Two West Virginia University researchers said laws and education efforts dealing with cell phone use while driving are not having much effect.

The report, conducted by Jeffrey Coben and Montao Zhu, is in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers said the number of injuries and deaths caused by cell phone use while driving has increased 22 percent between 2005 and 2009, and that the problem is expected to get worse.

In West Virginia, texting while driving is a primary offense and using a handheld cell phone is a secondary offense; it becomes a primary offense on July 1.

Lieutenant Paul Blume of the Southern Regional Highway Safety Program said the secondary offense on handheld phone use is what makes enforcement difficult. "We can watch somebody drive by but we can't do anything about it, unless we have another reason for the traffic stop," he said.

Brianna Shobe of Point Pleasant said she disagrees with both texting while driving and with drivers making calls on a handheld cell phone. "I don't think it's very safe and of course you're taking your eyes of the road so you shouldn't do it," she said.

Maveline Freeman of Point Pleasant said she often sees drivers text while waiting at a stop light. "I've seen teenagers, adults - they'll just go out and whip out their phone real quick and text and send it," she explained.

Blume said distracted driving enforcement will be stricter beginning in July, when only hands-free devices for drivers will be allowed. "You will see the highway safety programs throughout the state release a lot more funding for law enforcement to go out and enforce that law," he explained. "And I think you'll see agencies really jump on board with that."

Although Coben and Zhu said the issue of distracted driving is expected to get worse, one Minnesota resident said he has a simple solution. "If its that important pull over. Find a place to stop," said Bill Zink. "Whatever you have to do, pull over."


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