INWOOD, W.Va. — Musselman High School Student Council President Beth Whytsell has a plan to avoid the urge to send text messages on her cellphone while driving.
“I’m going to leave my phone in my purse behind the seat so there is no temptation to text while driving,” the Musselman High senior said Tuesday morning after signing Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Safe Driver Pledge.
Whytsell, 17, along with fellow student council officers and driver-education students, joined Tomblin Tuesday morning in the high school’s student parking lot for a ceremonial bill signing for legislation that outlaws texting while driving.
A measure passed by lawmakers this year at Tomblin’s request will allow police to pull over and ticket drivers for texting starting July 1. A year after that, talking on a phone that’s not hands-free will also become a primary offense.
Whytsell, who plans to stick with the no-texting pledge, said she has only sent text messages while stopped at traffic lights, usually in communication with her parents.
“No tickets for me. (I’ve got a) perfect record on the license. Keeping it that way,” said Whytsell, who received a light blue thumb band with the phrase “IT CAN WAIT” after signing the poster board bearing the pledge’s four tenets.
Fellow senior Ryan McFarland of Gerrardstown, W.Va., said he sends text messages to friends as he is pulling into their neighborhood to tell them he’s almost at their houses.
“Most of the time people don’t answer the phone,” said McFarland when asked why he doesn’t call them instead.
While he doesn’t “surf” the Internet while driving, occasionally, while stopped at traffic signals, McFarland admitted he has checked Facebook with his EVO phone while driving to school.
Tomblin, who signed two copies of the bill and presented them to school Principal Holly Kleppner and Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon, admitted in an interview after Tuesday’s ceremony that he has texted while driving .
“It was a long time ago,” said Tomblin, who acknowledged he hasn’t done much driving lately.
“You’re allowed to text while riding,” the governor said, smiling.
When asked about how difficult the new law would be to enforce, Tomblin said he believes there will be a lot of “self-policing” and that many people will simply want to follow the law.
Tomblin’s visit to Musselman High School in southern Berkeley County was his fourth visit to the Eastern Panhandle in as many weeks.
“When I first became governor 16 months ago, they said the Eastern Panhandle is not being paid attention to, and I’m doing my best to make sure that everything I do around the state, I include the Eastern Panhandle,” Tomblin said when asked about his frequent visits recently.
Tomblin, who also took part in a similar bill-signing ceremony at Bridgeport (W.Va.) High on Tuesday, is asking teens and others to sign the safe driver pledge on the governor’s website, www.governor.wv.gov.
Tomblin said his visits to schools Tuesday are part of an effort to try to bring attention to the new law and raise awareness about the danger of texting while driving compared to talking on a cellphone or driving under the influence.
Nanci Hovermale, director of Berkeley County Schools’ driver-education program, said students get a feel for the danger of texting while driving — a golf cart.
“We keep them from hurting themselves, but they miss the stop lines, they miss everything,” Hovermale said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Safe Driver Pledge
I pledge to put my safety and the safety of others first.
I will not text while I am driving b/c it cn w8.
I will always use a hands-free cellphone while driving because I am a responsible driver.
I will do my part in keeping our roadways safe.