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What Counts as a Hands-Free Device in West Virginia?

Published on Mar 5, 2024 at 3:52 pm in Car Accidents.

What counts as a hands-free device in West Virginia

As someone navigating the roadways here in the Mountain State, you’ve likely heard that using hands-free devices is permitted among drivers here. However, what type of technology actually falls into this category?

Below, we’ll share what counts as a hands-free device in West Virginia so that you can make sure you don’t end up on the wrong side of the law or become involved in a distracted driving crash.

What To Know About Laws Regarding the Use of Technology When Driving in West Virginia

According to the WV Division of Motor Vehicles, a law banning cell phone use and texting while driving if a motorist isn’t using hands-free technology went into effect in July 2012.

The ban on handheld device use, including texting, has been in effect since then for all drivers, and the ban additionally included cell phones for “novice” motorists. However, the state agency admits that this prohibition nearly a dozen years ago didn’t stop our state’s distracted driving problem.

On June 9, 2023, a new law, the Electronically Distracted Driving Act, also known as the Robin W. Ames Memorial Act, was codified as §17C-14-15. It allows for enhanced monetary penalties to be imposed and even incarceration of those who injure or kill someone while engaging in distracted driving.

Examples of Hands-Free Devices

The above-referenced Electronically Distracted Driving Act describes hands-free devices as wireless telecommunications equipment that allows users to turn on or off particular features with the swipe or touch of a single finger or using one’s voice. Thus, technology that falls into this hands-free category includes:

  • Voice-activated or operated systems, including speakerphones
  • Devices using Bluetooth technology, like earpieces or headsets
  • Dashboard systems installed in a vehicle
  • Personal navigation devices

What Qualifies as Handheld Technology?

Now that we’ve covered what type of technology you can use when traveling down West Virginia streets, let’s make sure you’re clear about what handheld devices our state’s laws may forbid drivers from using when operating their vehicles.

Those include any devices that can be held in the palm of one’s hand:

  • Tablets
  • Cell phones, including smartphones
  • Smartwatches
  • E-readers
  • Gaming consoles
  • Laptops
  • Digital cameras
  • Video or audio equipment
  • Notebook computers
  • Data retrieval devices
  • GPS receivers

However, this rule may have some exceptions, such as for limo or rideshare drivers who rely on the above-referenced technology for dispatch.

Types of Technology Used and Crash Rates

A lot of studies have been done on reducing distracted driving accidents, and researchers have reached varying conclusions as a result.

A Study That Suggests Hands-Free Devices Curb Collisions

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and other institutions have conducted research and concluded that hands-free devices reduce crash rates. The authors of the study referenced above found that motorists who use handheld devices are between 2 and 3.5 times more likely to have a wreck than those who do not.

In identifying the reasons these devices reduce crashes, they found it centers around minimizing the need for motorists to take their eyes off the road and hands off the steering wheel. If devices only require a single touch to operate or are voice-activated like most dashboard-integrated, Bluetooth-enabled, and similar devices, the authors argue they minimally distract drivers, which keeps our roads safer.

A Journal Article That Suggests That No Technology Use While Driving Is Best

Is it safer for motorists to utilize hands-free devices while driving than handheld ones?

Not according to the 2009 Journal of Safety Research study published by the National Library of Medicine.


In evaluating extensive sample data, the researchers determined that driving using any type of device is dangerous and that using hands-free technology over handheld was no safer. They argued that even if technology didn’t take their eyes off the road ahead or their hands off the wheel, it still affected their cognition.

In other words, engaging in any communication while driving took their mental bandwidth and focus off what they were doing and placed it on someone or something else.

Another interesting finding related to the aforementioned was a Traffic Injury Prevention journal study, also published by the NLM.

The authors of that study reached two important conclusions. They determined that hands-free devices reduce the frequency motorists engage in visual-manual tasks compared to handheld devices. However, the researchers also determined that users often opted to use handheld devices (specifically their smartphones) instead of using hands-free cell technology.

Thus, these studies raise questions about how effective the laws, as the ones we have in West Virginia, are that require motorists to only use hands-free technology. This is especially the case if studies show motorists don’t end up using the technology they may have accessible to them.

What To Do if a Distracted Driver Harmed You

Data shared by the WV Division of Motor Vehicles in the previously cited resource suggests that as many as 69 of the 279 fatal crashes that occurred between 2016 and 2020 in our state were caused by distracted drivers.

This doesn’t say how many people suffered injuries in similar types of accidents, but it’s likely that number is significant.

We hope, if you’re reading this, you avoided being harmed if you encountered a motorist distracted by their phone or other handheld device. However, if you’re one of the unfortunate who fell victim to someone who violated our West Virginia hands-free laws, know that you do have legal options.

If you’re wondering what to do after being struck by a distracted driver, first, seek out medical treatment. Then contact our law firm to discuss your accident or the one that severely injured or claimed the life of a close family member.

When you reach out to us at DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, we’ll ask you a bit more about the moments leading up to the crash before advising you on what rights victims and/or surviving loved ones have to recover compensation in your specific situation.