CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The push to curb distracted drivers has already begun, but State Police hope that getting the word out will cause people to focus on the road instead of their cellphones or other distractions.
Distracted driving isn't just about cellphones. State troopers have seen drivers shaving, putting on makeup, and reading the newspaper. One reported seeing a driver eating a bowl of chili.
That behavior has to stop, said Sgt. Michael Baylous, State Police spokesman.
Operation Chain Reaction already is in full swing as troopers have been patrolling since the beginning of the month looking for distracted drivers. Students in a marketing class at Winfield High School came up with the name of the operation and its slogan: "Start a chain reaction, eliminate distraction."
Baylous encountered a woman driving distracted Monday while on his way to State Police Headquarters in South Charleston. The woman was speeding while talking on her cellphone and passed him on Interstate 64 without a second glance.
When he pulled her over, she admitted she hadn't been paying any attention and was talking on her cellphone, he said.
State Police received a federal grant through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to fund overtime efforts in 21 counties that were selected to participate in the operation, said Sgt. Christopher Zerkle, director of the Traffic Records division. Detachments in those counties will receive $8,000 to patrol for distracted drivers.
"You'll be seeing them out there," Zerkle said of troopers. "We're going to be focused on distracted driving and people need to be aware of the state code."
Texting while driving became a primary offense last July, but simply talking on a cellphone while driving is still a secondary offense. That will change in July when using a phone without a hands-free device becomes a primary offense.
Authorities may pull a driver over for a primary offense. A secondary offense can only be addressed if the officer has already pulled the driver over.