BECKLEY - Stricter seat belt and distracted driving laws have contributed to a decline highway fatalities in West Virginia, a state highway safety official said.
Figures released Wednesday by the West Virginia Southern Regional Highway Safety Program show 325 people were killed in accidents on West Virginia's highways in 2013. That's down from 338 in 2011 and 339 in 2012. The lowest number of highway fatalities is 315 in 2010.
The Legislature passed laws in 2013 that make a driver's failure to wear a seat belt and texting or using a handheld cellphone while driving primary offenses. A primary offense means a driver wouldn't have to be stopped for another violation first.
"The Legislature passed and put into law in July the primary seatbelt law, as well as the distracted driving law," Lt. Paul Blume, the safety program's coordinator, said. "I think those things really contributed to those numbers going down."
Blume said the laws' passage marked a huge advancement for highway safety.
"I think these laws will make a real difference in the number of crashes," he said.
Highways will be heavily monitored by law enforcement in the coming months for seat belt violations and distracted driving.
Blume said he hopes people are getting the message to "buckle up and park the phone," and that the number of fatalities continues to decline this year.
"Those aren't just numbers - those are family members, moms, dads, brothers, sisters and fellow West Virginians," he said.
He also urged motorists to slow down during the winter and allow extra time to get to their destinations.
"It's West Virginia, and it's winter time, so you can expect the snow."