Vermont cell-phone ban for drivers fails to win approval

| 5/24/2006

A bill died in the Vermont House that would have prohibited drivers in the state from talking on the phone while driving.

The measure was one of several highway-safety-related bills that failed to gain passage in the legislative session that wrapped up this month. None of the bills made it out of committee in their chamber of origin.

Sponsored by Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, the cell phone bill would have banned drivers from using handheld or “hands-free” devices while driving.

The bill – H563 – would have made 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 have faced fines ranging from $25 to $100.

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

The cell-phone restriction bill wasn’t the only highway safety issue that was brought before lawmakers in Vermont.

Two efforts addressed whether to adopt a primary law for seat-belt enforcement.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, introduced a bill – S193 – that would have permitted 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.

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

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

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

Specifically, the bill would have reined 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 – sought to outlaw the action.

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

The bills can be reintroduced in the legislative session that begins in January 2007.