Are West Virginia’s distracted driving laws strong enough?

Research shows that hands-free devices may be just as distracting as hand-held devices for drivers in West Virginia.

By now, most people in West Virginia are aware of the serious threat posed by using a phone while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2015, 391,000 people suffered injuries and 3,477 people were killed due to distracted driving. Those significant numbers are just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of distracted driving-related motor vehicle accidents that take place every year.

Fortunately, lawmakers have recognized this as a prevalent issue. Accordingly, states have enacted legislation that intends to deter people from texting and talking on the phone while driving.

State law

The Governors Highway Safety Association notes that 15 states have banned the use of any handheld device while driving in an effort to reduce motor vehicle accidents. That includes West Virginia. This is among the strictest take on distracted driving, as many states have only prohibited texting while driving. In West Virginia, it is illegal to even hold a phone to have a conversation.

Additionally, West Virginia, like several other states, has banned any type of cellphone use for novice drivers, or drivers who are younger than 18 with either an intermediate or learner's license.

Hands-free policies

Currently, no state has banned using hands-free devices for all drivers. Therefore, drivers are still permitted to connect their cellphone with a Bluetooth or other type of infotainment system and hold a conversation.

This is problematic when looking at the data that suggests that hands-free cellphone use may be just as dangerous as holding the phone. The National Safety Council points out that the activity of brain area that processes moving object is diminished by as much as one-third if the person is talking on a phone - even just listening.

Essentially, even if someone is not manually distracted - meaning his or her hands are free to be on the wheel - he or she is still cognitively distracted because the brain is otherwise occupied. This could lead to any of the following:

  • A decreased reaction time
  • An inability to process events taking place around the car
  • A lack of awareness of pedestrians and bicyclists

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety even found that using a speech-to-text system is even more distracting than using a hands-free phone to hold a conversation.

Therefore, while West Virginia's laws are a step in the right direction, they may not be strict enough because they do not adequately address hands-free phone use. And even if the laws do not change, it is still imperative for drivers to understand the serious risk of any type of distraction while behind the wheel. People who have concerns about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney.