A bill in the Vermont House would prohibit drivers in the
state from talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. The measure is one
of several highway safety-related bills under consideration in the Legislature.
Drivers would be prohibited from using the devices while
behind the wheel. Talking on a phone equipped with a "hands-free" accessory
would still be permitted.
Sponsored by Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, the bill - S20 -
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 up to $100 fines. Emergency calls would
A separate effort focuses on the cell phone habits of novice
Sponsored by Rep. Sue Minter, D-Waterbury, the bill - H85 -
would prohibit cell phone use for drivers possessing learner's permits or
junior operator's licenses.
Currently, about a dozen states forbid young drivers from
using phones while behind the wheel.
Only Connecticut, New York and New Jersey ban all drivers
from using hand-held phones. In 2008, California is slated to implement its own
rule that will prohibit all drivers from talking on hand-held phones while
However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held
phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say
that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or
changing radio stations while driving.
In fact, research by the University of North Carolina
determined that cell-phone use ranked eighth in terms of distraction, The Patriot-News reported.
With that in mind, Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre, has introduced
a bill that would bar drivers from doing just about anything other than steering
The bill - H126 - would prohibit such activities as eating,
drinking, smoking, reading, writing, playing a musical instrument and talking
on the phone while driving. Violators would face $600 fines.
The cell-phone restriction bill isn't the only highway
safety issue drawing consideration in the state. Another effort offered by Ayer
addresses whether or not to adopt a primary law for seat-belt enforcement.
Currently, police in the state can issue seat-belt citations
to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as
speeding. The bill - S19 - would permit police to pull over drivers who are not
Gov. James Douglas is opposed to the proposed rule change.
He would prefer to educate the public about the dangers of not wearing a seat
The state does have an economic incentive to adopt the
stricter rule. Vermont would be line for a one-time $3.7 million payment from
the federal government, the Rutland
The 2005 federal Highway Bill gives any state that adopts
tougher seat-belt rules or achieves a belt usage rate of 85 percent one-time
grant money equal to 500 percent of the highway funding they received in 2003.
Vermont has a seat-belt usage rate of 84.7 percent.
One other safety-related bill would require drivers to flip
on their headlights when precipitation is flying.
Sponsored by Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, the bill
would require lights to be on whenever visibility is limited. The measure -
H125 - defines that as whenever "the windshield wipers are in use as a result
of rain, sleet, snow, hail, fog, or other unfavorable atmospheric condition."
Vermont law already requires drivers to have their
headlights on from one-half hour past sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.
The bills are in committee.
- By Keith Goble,
state legislative editor