CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia could soon join a growing number of states where it's illegal to send text messages or use a cellphone while driving.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill to ban drivers from texting and making cellphone calls should expect smooth sailing in the coming days through House and Senate committees, lawmakers said. Tomblin's legislation was introduced Tuesday.
"I'm optimistic it will pass," said Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Robert Beach, D-Monongalia. "The direction we're taking is coming from the federal level. Many states are already adopting this."
House Transportation and Roads Committee Chairwoman Margaret Ann Staggers, D-Fayette, said the House has pushed for a cellphone and texting ban for years, but similar legislation has bogged down in the Senate.
Staggers believes Tomblin's support will give the legislation the push it needs to become law.
"We're optimistic something will happen this year," she said. "This is about responsible driving. All of us need to be paying attention when we're driving at 70 mph down the highway."
Nine states and Washington, D.C., prohibit handheld cellphones while driving, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association.
In all but one of those states, law enforcement officers may cite drivers for using a cellphone without any other traffic offense taking place -- also known as "primary enforcement."
Tomblin's bill would treat a cellphone ban violation as a "secondary offense," meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for some other reason before being ticketed. Maryland also treats a cellphone use while driving as a secondary offense.
Lawmakers said Tuesday that any cellphone ban on the books would be a step in the right direction.