WSAZ INVESTIGATES: Texting and Driving, Is the Law Working?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Texting behind the wheel is a dangerous and sometimes deadly distraction -- so much that it's now against the law. But is the law being enforced?

After a major push for the "no texting and driving" law in West Virginia, it finally went into effect in July.

However, is the law itself enough to protect you? investigated to see whether it’s working or not.

“It is difficult to enforce. It's not impossible,” Kanawha County Sheriff's Cpl. Brian Humphreys said.

Proof of how tough the law is to enforce can be found in the numbers.

We went digging to find the number of citations officers have actually issued since the law passed.

We called dozens of police departments to find out. Out of the nine that provided us with numbers, a total of 20 distracted driving citations have been issued.

Poca, Pratt, Winfield, St. Albans, Chesapeake, Kenova and Barboursville all had zero.

Charleston reported nine texting and driving citations. Eleanor reported 11 distracted driving citations, but only a portion of them were for texting.

Compare that to the 481 seat-belt violations and 1,430 speeding tickets issued by those same departments since the texting law went into effect.

Humphreys is always on the lookout for any signs of distracted driving.

“Not staying within their lane, erratic braking, going too slow, going too fast; if they're not aware of their surroundings for whatever reason -- that's a reason to pull them over and find out why,” Humphreys said.

Even an officer like Humphreys, who watches drivers closely, has never issued a citation for texting and driving.

We also hit the streets to check with drivers themselves about whether or not the law is working.

“You shouldn't (text and drive) because I know it's dangerous, but yeah honestly, I have,” Kelsey Legg said.

“The guy wouldn't stop texting, but I was riding with him and didn't really want to tell him not to text. He ran off, almost hit one metal pole and then swerved and almost hit another one,” Nichole Schleider said.

“I'm really good at it. I can still drive and text and just go about my business,” Michael Botkins said.

Botkins admits he has no fear of getting caught.

Even when drivers are caught; the cause is tough to prove. Therefore, more must be done to keep the roads safe.

Like many other agencies, the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department reaches out to young drivers.

They use an obstacle course to show teenagers just how dangerous texting behind the wheel is.

And the Department of Transportation uses signs along the interstate to remind even experienced drivers not to text and drive.

But sometimes all warnings are silenced, until tragedy strikes.

“I've had a few friends that have passed away, so I don't think it's a good thing to text and drive,” Shawn Burns said.

As for the number of accidents caused by texting, officers say that is nearly impossible to know. That's because there's typically no proof, and so the cause goes undetermined.

In Kentucky, 144 texting and driving citations were issued during the first year the law was in effect.

In Ohio, texting is still just a secondary offense unless the driver is under 18.

Currently, police are still only giving warnings. They will begin issuing citations in March.

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