Monday evening New Martinsville council passed the second reading and adopted a law that prohibits texting or talking on mobile phones, without a hands-free device, while driving.
While the identical state law went into effect on July 1 and was certainly enforceable within the city limits, Police Chief Tim Cecil explains that without the law on the city's books, the charge would go to magistrate court and any fines collected would not go to the city. Now all fines will go to the city's coffers.
And the financial penalties are not small. The fines, identical to the state, are $100 for a first offense; $200, second offense; and $300, third offense. "So it is a pretty hefty penalty," noted Councilman Chris Bachman.
The ordinance prohibits the use of an electronic communications device while driving or operating a motor vehicle. That means while the vehicle's motor is running, even 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 of a highway and halted in a location where the vehicle can safety remain stationary."
Like the state law, use is allowed when engaging hands-free equipment. Other exceptions are given for law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle in the performance of their official duties.
Cecil also pointed out that there is an exemption for anyone who needs to use the phone for an emergency. For instance, "You can call for help when you see a car accident," said Cecil.
In other matters, Cecil noted all of the city's officers are now trained and certified on radar. Also, since the department is still not fully staffed, the NMPD has tested more potential officers and plan to do more testing in January. Anyone interested in becoming a police officer is encouraged to call the department at 304-455-9100.
On a related note, Bachman noted that to date, in 2013 the NMPD has made 498 arrests. And most of the year the department has been working short-handed. "To me, I think that's quite a few for a town of this size," said Bachman.
Finally, Cecil thanked the First Christian Church for their $400 donation to the "Shop With A Cop" program. Dominion had already donated to the project and he has received some donations from individuals as well.
Cecil has received reports of some telephone solicitations to local businesses for "Shop With A Cop" donations. These calls are coming from the Fraternal Order of Police in Parkersburg; it does not benefit the local program.
"Shop WIth A Cop" is an event where NMPD officers take low-income kids shopping for Christmas gifts. "The first year we were able to take 13 kids and let them spend $100 each," said Cecil. Last year they took 10 kids at $200 each. He hopes to maintain that level this year.
The NMPD works with the MHS and New Martinsville School to identify the recipients. "We try to do our best to get it to the kids that need it," said Cecil, who added that they coordinate so it doesn't overlap with other groups that offer Christmas assistance.