H. B. 2108
(By Delegate Fleischauer)
[Passed April 10, 2013; in effect ninety days from passage.]
AN ACT to amend and reenact §17C-15-49 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended ; and to amend and reenact §17C-14-15,of said code, all relating to the operation of motor vehicles; making the offense of failure to wear safety belts a primary offense; and prohibiting denial of insurance coverage for prohibited use of electronic communications devices while driving.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That §17C-15-49 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, be amended and reenacted; and that §17C-14-15 of said code be amended and reenacted, all to read as follows:
CHAPTER 17C. TRAFFIC REGULATIONS AND LAWS OF THE ROAD.
ARTICLE 15. EQUIPMENT.
§17C-15-49. Operation of vehicles with safety belts; exception; penalty; civil actions; educational program by West Virginia State Police.
(a) A person may not operate a passenger vehicle on a public street or highway of this state unless the person, any passenger in the back seat under eighteen years of age, and any passenger in the front seat of the passenger vehicle is restrained by a safety belt meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. For the purposes of this section, the term "passenger vehicle" means a motor vehicle which is designed for transporting ten passengers or less, including the driver, except that the term does not include a motorcycle, a trailer, or any motor vehicle which is not required on the date of the enactment of this section under a federal motor vehicle safety standard to be equipped with a belt system. The provisions of this section apply to all passenger vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1967, and being 1968 models and newer.
(b) The required use of safety belts as provided herein does not apply to a duly appointed or contracted rural mail carrier of the United States Postal Service who is actually making mail deliveries or to a passenger or operator with a physically disabling condition whose physical disability would prevent appropriate restraint in the safety belt if the condition is duly certified by a physician who states the nature of the disability as well as the reason the restraint is inappropriate. The Division of Motor Vehicles shall adopt rules, in accordance with the provisions of chapter twenty-nine-a of this code, to establish a method to certify the physical disability and to require use of an alternative restraint system where feasible or to waive the requirement for the use of any restraint system.
(c) Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall be fined $25. No court costs or other fees may be assessed for a violation of this section.
(d) A violation of this section is not admissible as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence or comparative negligence in any civil action or proceeding for damages, and is not admissible in mitigation of damages: Provided, That the court may, upon motion of the defendant, conduct an in camera hearing to determine whether an injured party's failure to wear a safety belt was a proximate cause of the injuries complained of. Upon a finding by the court, the court may then, in a jury trial, by special interrogatory to the jury, determine: (1) That the injured party failed to wear a safety belt; and (2) that the failure to wear the safety belt constituted a failure to mitigate damages. The trier of fact may reduce the injured party's recovery for medical damages by an amount not to exceed five percent thereof. In the event the plaintiff stipulates to the reduction of five percent of medical damages, the court shall make the calculations and the issue of mitigation of damages for failure to wear a safety belt may not be presented to the jury. In all cases, the actual computation of the dollar amount reduction shall be determined by the court.
(e) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code to the contrary, no points may be entered on any driver's record maintained by the Division of Motor Vehicles as a result of a violation of this section.
(f) The Governor's Highway Safety Program, in cooperation with the West Virginia State Police and any other state departments or agencies and with county and municipal law-enforcement agencies, shall initiate and conduct an educational program designed to encourage compliance with safety belt usage laws. This program shall be focused on the effectiveness of safety belts, the monetary savings and the other benefits to the public from usage of safety belts and the requirements and penalties specified in this law.
(g) Nothing contained in this section abrogates or alters the provisions of section forty-six of this article relating to the mandatory use of child passenger safety devices.
ARTICLE 14. MISCELLANEOUS RULES.
§17C-14-15. Prohibited use of an electronic communications devicedriving without handheld features; definitions; exceptions; penalties.
(a) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, a person may not drive or operate a motor vehicle on a public street or highway while:
(1) Texting; or
(2) Using a cell phone or other electronic communications device, unless the use is accomplished by hands-free equipment.
(b) For purposes of this section, the following terms shall mean:
(1) “Cell phone” shall mean a cellular, analog, wireless or digital telephone.
(2) “Driving” or “operating a motor vehicle” means operating a motor vehicle, with the motor running, including while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays, but does not include operating a motor vehicle after the driver has moved the vehicle to the side of, or off, a highway and halted in a location where the vehicle can safely remain stationary.
(3) “Electronic communication device” means a cell telephone, personal digital assistant, electronic device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device. For the purposes of this section, an “electronic communication device” does not include:
(A) Voice radios, mobile radios, land mobile radios, commercial mobile radios or two way radios with the capability to transmit and receive voice transmissions utilizing a push-to-talk or press-to-transmit function; or
(B) Other voice radios used by a law-enforcement officer, an emergency services provider, an employee or agent of public safety organizations, first responders, Amateur Radio Operators (HAM) licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and school bus operators.
(4) “Engaging in a call” means when a person talks into or listens on an electronic communication device, but shall not include when a person dials or enters a phone number on a pushpad or screen to initiate the call.
(5) “Hands-free electronic communication device” means an electronic communication device that has an internal feature or function, or that is equipped with an attachment or addition, whether or not permanently part of such electronic communication device, by which a user engages in a call without the use of either hand or both hands.
(6) “Hands-free equipment” means the internal feature or function of a hands-free electronic communication device or the attachment or addition to a hands-free electronic communication device by which a user may engage in a call or text without the use of either hand or both hands.
(7) “Texting” means manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic communication device, and includes, but is not limited to, short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a World Wide Web page or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication. For purposes of this section, “texting” does not include the following actions:
(A) Reading, selecting or entering a telephone number, an extension number, or voicemail retrieval codes and commands into an electronic device by the pressing the device in order to initiate or receive a phone call or using voice commands to initiate or receive a telephone call;
(B) Inputting, selecting or reading information on a global positioning system or navigation system; or
(C) Using a device capable of performing multiple functions, including fleet management systems, dispatching devices, smart phones, citizens band radios or music players, for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited in this section.
(8) “Using a cell phone or other electronic communication device” means holding in a person’s hand or hands an electronic communication device while:
(A) Viewing or transmitting images or data;
(B) Playing games;
(C) Composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages or other electronic data; or
(D) Engaging in a call.
(c) Subsection (a) of this section shall not apply to:
(1) A law-enforcement officer, a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, a paramedic or the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle in the performance of their official duties;
(2) A person using an electronic communication device to report to appropriate authorities a fire, a traffic accident, a serious road hazard, or a medical or hazardous materials emergencies.
(3) The activation or deactivation of hands-free equipment or a function of hands-free equipment.
(d) This section does not supersede the provisions of section three-a, article two, chapter seventeen-b of this code or any more restrictive provisions for drivers of commercial motor vehicles prescribed by the provisions of chapter seventeen-e of this code or federal law or rule.
(e) Any person who violates the provisions of subsection (a) of this section is guilty of a traffic offense and, upon conviction thereof, shall for a first offense be fined $100; for a second offense be fined $200; and for a third or subsequent offense be fined $300. No court costs or other fees shall be assessed for a violation of subsection (a) of this section.
(f) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code to the contrary, points may not be entered on any driver’s record maintained by the Division of Motor Vehicles as a result of a violation of this section, except for the third and subsequent convictions of the offense, for which three points shall be entered on any driver’s record maintained by the Division of Motor Vehicles.
(g) Driving or operating a motor vehicle on a public street or highway while texting shall be enforced as a primary offense. Driving or operating a motor vehicle on a public street or highway while using a cell phone or other electronic communication device without hands-free equipment shall be enforced as a secondary offense until July 1, 2013, when it shall be enforced as a primary offense for purposes of citation.
(h) Within ninety days of the effective date of this section, the Department of Transportation shall cause to be erected signs upon any highway entering the state of West Virginia on which a welcome to West Virginia sign is posted, and any other highway where the Division of Highways deems appropriate, posted at a distance of not more than one mile from each border crossing, each sign to bear an inscription clearly communicating to motorists entering the state that texting, or the use of a wireless communication device without hands-free equipment, is illegal within this state.
(i) Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to authorize seizure of a cell phone or electronic device by any law- enforcement agency.
(j) No policy providing liability coverage for personal lines insurance shall contain a provision which may be used to deny coverage or exclude payment of any legal damages recoverable by law for injuries proximately caused by a violation of this section, as long as such amounts are within the coverage limits of the insured.