CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State officials are trying to clear up some confusion over when West Virginia's new law banning handheld cellphone use while driving goes into effect.
Police will begin enforcing the new law on July 1. However, multiple media outlets have reported that the ban is effective beginning Friday.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office even posted that to the secretary's official Facebook page.
"Remember, texting or using a handheld cellphone while driving becomes a secondary traffic offense on Friday, June 8, 2012," the post said.
But that is not true.
The confusion lies in the new law's effective date.
Unless otherwise specified, bills approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor become law 90 days after final passage.
Such is the case with the handheld cellphone ban law: it was passed March 10, and it becomes law 90 days later, on June 8.
That's the effective date that shows up when someone looks up the bill on the Legislature's website, and it was the date Tennant's office used.
"We saw it on the Legislature website - which it said the bill was effective 90 days from passage - which would make it June 8," Secretary of State spokesman Jake Glance said. "So we saw that, and we only sent something out as a courtesy to make sure people knew about it - not as an authority on legislation."
The problem lies in the fact that the legislation itself spells out the effective date.
Natalie Harvey, spokeswoman for state Division of Motor Vehicles and the Governor's Highway Safety Program, says a reading of the entire bill reveals the effective date of the provisions that affect drivers.
"It does say at the top that it's effective 90 days from the date of passage," Harvey said. "However, in the law itself toward the end of the actual verbiage, it says July 1."
That means the bill becomes a part of state code as of Friday but doesn't go into effect until July 1.
"So yes, on the very beginning of the bill it looks like it would be this Friday, but if you look inside the bill, it says July 1 is the effective date," she said.
Lawmakers included a section in the bill to spell out the dates that the various types of handheld cellphone use would become primary offenses.
Officers can pull over a driver for committing a primary offense, like running a red light or speeding. An example of a secondary offense is failure to wear a seatbelt. Officers can't pull over drivers for committing a secondary offense, but can write citations for them if they've pulled a driver over for a primary offense.
All handheld cellphone use will be considered illegal beginning July 1, but officers can pull over drivers only for texting, not talking. Dialing is exempt.
Texting will be enforced as a primary offense and other handheld cellphone use will be treated as a secondary offense beginning this July 1.