"Our officers are using their discretion and good judgment," he said.
Baylous said the texting ban, like the seatbelt law, acts as a deterrent -- people change their habits because there's a law on the books.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Baylous, whose agency is working with the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Human Resources to spread the word about the new law. "Anything that enhances highway safety, we're for it."
In April, the State Police received federal grant money to start a program designed to crack down on distracted driving. The program -- called "Operation Chain Reaction" -- pays troopers to go on extra patrols and look for distracted drivers along highways in 21 counties.
The DMV and State Police don't collect the number of citations that police have issued to drivers for texting and cellphone use, so, presumably, citation numbers would be substantially higher than convictions.
People who text while behind the wheel are 23 times more likely to get in accidents, highway safety studies have shown. The accident rate also is higher for drivers who chat on hand-held cellphones.
The texting-while-driving prohibition applies to "smart phones" and other mobile devices. Sending emails and playing video games on those devices while driving also is illegal.
"Sometimes, just having the law in place is enough to change the behavior," Harvey said. "It's important to always have your eyes on the road. We're in the business of saving lives and reducing injuries."
Under the law, motorists can still call 911 to report accidents and other emergencies with a cellphone. Hands-free, or voice-command, text messaging also would be allowed.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.