Vermont bill would ban cell-phone use for drivers

| 2/24/2006

A bill in the Vermont House would prohibit drivers in the state from talking on the phone while driving. The measure is one of several highway-safety related bills under consideration in the Legislature.

Sponsored by Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, the bill would ban drivers from using hand-held or “hands-free” phones while driving.

The bill – H563 – would make it a secondary offense to drive while chatting – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone.

Violators would face a $25 fine for a first offense. A second offense would result in a $50 fine while subsequent offenses would net a $100 fine.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. No state prohibits hands-free usage.

Nuovo’s bill comes in the wake of studies that show hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting.

A recent Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study indicated that drivers using phones were four times as likely to be in crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Researchers found that the increased crash risk was consistent for those using either hand-held or hands-free phones.

The cell-phone restriction bill isn’t the only highway safety issue drawing consideration in the state.

Two efforts address whether or not to adopt a primary law for seat-belt enforcement.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, has introduced a bill that would permit police to pull over drivers who are not buckled up.

Currently, police in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

Under S193, violators would face a $25 fine. Subsequent offenses would result in higher fines – the same as current state law. No points would be assessed against the driver’s license.

A separate bill offered by Sen. Mark Shepard, R-Bennington, and Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex/Orleans, would maintain the state’s secondary enforcement rule for seat belts.

S263 also would ban police from setting up roadblocks to nab drivers who are not belted.

Rep. Linda Myers, R-Essex Junction, has introduced commonsense legislation that would require “vehicle operators to obey highway markings.”

Specifically, the bill would rein in motorists who cross the center of roads with double yellow lines. In Vermont, unless you’re approaching a curve, hill, intersection or rail crossing, it’s legal to pass.

The bill – H68 – would outlaw the action.

A measure – H788 – from Rep. John Winters, R-Swanton, would require the operator of an emergency vehicle when responding to an emergency to use flashing lights and sirens when exceeding the speed limit.

The bills are in their respective transportation committees.