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Police Find Drivers Breaking Distracted Driving Laws

Reported: May. 1, 2014 8:06 AM EDT
Updated: May. 1, 2014 9:22 AM EDT

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Katelyn Sykes) -- West Virginia enacted laws in 2013 prohibiting drivers from using a cell phone to talk or text while driving, but police across the state are finding drivers breaking the law.

It's so prevalent police said it's concerning. A study found at any given daylight moment across the country, 660,000 drivers are using a cellphone or manipulating an electronic device while driving.

Eyewitness News had the opportunity to ride along with Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese and it didn't take long before we found someone breaking the law.

"We're seeing some people who are being safe and using bluetooth devices or hands-free devices, but for the most part they're ignoring the state law," Deweese said.

During a two week span in early April, Putnam County sheriff's deputies wrote 49 citations to people who were talking or texting while driving. Deweese said for the most part people are aware of the law but don't want to spend the cash on a hands-free device.

"The way I look at it, the first offense is a $100 fine. Straight fine, no court costs or anything is set," Deweese said. "They could take that $100 and buy them a nice bluetooth device to put in their vehicles and make it hands free."

West Virginia State Police also are seeing people ignoring the law. Lt. Michael Baylous said since the law was passed last summer, troopers have written hundreds of citations across the state but stopping every driver is nearly impossible.

"I heard one trooper say the other day, 'If I wrote a citation for everyone I saw talking on their cellphone, I wouldn't make it in to the office,'" Baylous said. "You see these violations and you know you need to take care of it, but you have other things that you have to do as well and sometimes they're more pressing, so you can't deal with it."

It's concerning to police. In 2012, 3,328 people were killed nationwide by distracted drivers and 421,000 people were hurt in crashes involving a distracted driver. That is part of the reason laws were enacted last year, but Kanawha County sheriff's deputies said even though it's still being broken, there is hope.

"How have things gone since speed laws went into affect? Are you still seeing people speeding? Absolutely," said Cpl. Brian Humphreys, spokesman for the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office. "People are still going to break those laws and they're still going to engage in reckless behavior from time to time. But ultimately the goal of the law and the goal of the enforcement of the law is to try to reduce the number of crashes, reduce the number of people who get hurt and reduce the number of victims of somebody else's negligence."

Kanawha County sheriff's deputies said during a two-week span in early April, out of 300 traffic stops, more than a third of those resulted in cellphone citation.

Police said no matter how long it takes, they are not giving up and are enforcing this law to its fullest.

"The overall objective or mission of each law enforcement agency across the state is to make our community safe and our roadways safe and this is just one means of us out here being proactive and not reactive and vigilant," Deweese said.

There are a number of different devices you can buy so you can use your cellphone in the car hands free. Some of those devices sell for as little as $20.

When the law first went into effect in 2013, most of the drivers police stopped were just issued a warning, but police said now that the law is about a year old, they will be issuing more citations.

The first offense is $100; second offense, $200; third offense, $300; and the fourth offense, $400.

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