While using a cellphone without a hands-free device isn't a primary offense yet, the signs that a person is using the phone -- traveling left of center, crossing the centerline, speeding -- are. Baylous said if troopers spot motorists doing those things and then find that the driver was using a cellphone, the person would be cited under the distracted driving law.
The first offense is a $100 fine. The second time it's a fine of $200. The third is $300.
"But let me remind you of this, July 1, 2013, it all becomes a primary offense throughout the state of West Virginia. You have to be hands-free, period," Zerkle said.
Bob Tipton, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, said distracted driving is a bigger issue than many believe.
He said he sees distracted drivers on his daily commute from Beckley to Charleston. A former police officer with 24 years experience, he said the behavior of distracted drivers reminds him of another deadly traffic offense.
"I'm used to seeing people driving like that who are intoxicated," Tipton said. "They're crossing the center line, they're running off the road, they're hitting the rumble strips.
Tipton also encouraged officers to refrain from using their phones while behind the wheel to set a better example.
There is an exemption in the law for first responders, but Baylous said Col. Jay Smithers enacted a policy last year prohibiting troopers from using phones without a hands-free device unless the situation made it absolutely necessary.
He said Smithers was committed to improving highway safety. Officers had been taking an educational approach to the issue since July.
"We're not out there to write a bunch of tickets," Zerkle said. "We're out there to make sure people are aware of the dangers of distracted driving."
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.cr...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.