Your Guide to West Virginia's Distracted Driving Laws
(It's more than just not texting.)
Jessica Huneck|February 27, 2020
There are more than 50,000 car accidents every year in West Virginia. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is engaging in any activity that takes your attention off the primary task of driving. There are three types of distractions:
Manual: anything that causes you to take your hands off the wheel, like eating, smoking, or reaching for an object
Visual: anything that causes you to take your eyes off the road, like looking at a GPS, checking your hair in the review mirror, or looking at kids in the backseat
Cognitive: anything that causes you to take your mind off the task of driving, like having a conversation with a passenger, going over your shopping list in your head, or daydreaming
Most distracted driving is perfectly legal, but it should be kept at a minimum because it still increases your risk of being in an accident. Laws in West Virginia are currently focused mostly on reducing the number of distractions caused by texting or talking on a handheld cell phone while driving, leaving other distractions unchecked.
Distracted Driving Statistics in West Virginia
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in West Virginia:
Distracted driving is responsible for 26% of all traffic accidents in West Virginia.
Cell phone use is the culprit in 23% of all distracted driving crashes in this state.
Eating, drinking, and smoking make up another 23% of all distracted driving accidents.
In 2015, West Virginia law enforcement issued 7,537 citations for distracted driving. Of these:
6,924 were cell phone citations
613 were texting citations
1,426 were warnings
A 2016 study found that 57% of rural West Virginia teens admit to texting while driving.
Does West Virginia Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
West Virginia currently prohibits:
Reading, writing, and sending text messages or emails for all drivers.
The used of handheld cell phones for all drivers.
Drivers who are under 18 or who have learner’s permits from using any wireless communication device while driving – even in hands-free mode.
School bus drivers from using cell phones while operating the vehicle
Are There Any Exceptions to West Virginia's Distracted Driving Laws?
When mobile communication devices are used as part of their official duties, distracted driving laws in this state do not apply to:
Law enforcement officers
Operators of authorized emergency vehicles
West Virginia compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Also, the following exceptions to West Virginia’s distracted driving law apply:
Drivers may touch their devices while driving only to activate or deactivate the hands-free feature.
Drivers may send and receive text messages as long as it is done entirely with hands-free voice-to-text technology.
Drivers may use a handheld device for the purpose of reporting a traffic accident, fire, road hazard, or medical emergency.
Drivers are permitted to use voice radios, mobile radios, land mobile radios, commercial mobile radios, two-way radios, and other voice radios.
West Virginia Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in West Virginia?
Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. Basically, anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard.
So, what happens if a police officer in West Virginia sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.
But even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the radio) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, and these are actions that can earn you a citation.
Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors or in the parking lot.
What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
West Virginia uses primary enforcement. But this wasn’t always the case. When the law was first introduced in 2012, it relied on secondary enforcement. This made it difficult for police to enforce the law, and it was changed to primary enforcement in 2013.
This means that even if you're in total control of your vehicle while using your phone, a police officer who witnesses you doing so can pull you over and write up a citation.
What's the Penalty for Distracted Driving in West Virginia?
If you get a ticket for violating West Virginia’s distracted driving laws, you can expect:
For a first offense: a fine of $100, no points on the driver’s license
For a second offense: a fine of $200, no points on the driver’s license
For a third or subsequent offense: $300, plus three points against the driver’s license
West Virginia’s penalties compared to neighboring states
Keep in mind that the amount you will be expected to pay may be higher than the fine amounts listed above, since court costs and administrative and other fees may be added to the ticket. But the costs don’t end there. This brings us to our next topic: insurance.
Does a Distracted Driving Citation in West Virginia Increase Insurance Rates?
In some cases, yes.
First and second violations of the distracted driving law do not add points to your license, so there's a chance your insurance company won't know about the infraction.
But a third or following violation or a violation that's coupled with a moving violation or an accident will be reported. And if that happens, your car insurance rates will almost certainly increase.
The amount of your rate hike will depend on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history. In West Virginia, distracted driving citations cause rates to go up an average of $228 a year. That’s nearly $20 a month.
Plus if you have a safe driver discount, you can probably kiss that goodbye. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and cause your rate increase to be even more painful.
What If I Drive into Another State?
Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.
Nearly all the states that border on West Virginia still allow the use of handheld devices while driving. Does this mean as soon as you cross the border, you can ditch the hands-free system and hold your phone to your ear? Yes, you certainly can, but why would you?
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it is wise. If your car is already equipped with hands-free technology, why not use it?
What Is West Virginia Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?
West Virginia has joined several other states in banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving, but this behavior continues to be a major contributing factor in crashes in this state as well as nationwide.
That's why educating the public about the real dangers of using devices while behind the wheel is so important.
To this end, the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) has joined the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in its program to educate motorists about the dangers of distracted driving.
This NHTSA’s program relies on legislation, enforcement, public awareness, and education to change the behaviors of drivers across the country. These are the same methods used in the past to lower the rate of drunk driving and to educate the public about the importance of wearing seat belts.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.