Drop That Phone: Deal Reached On Hand Held Device Ban For Drivers

May 7, 2014

It will soon be illegal to drive while using a handheld cell phone under a bill that’s poised to pass the Legislature. Gov. Peter Shumlin says he’ll drop his opposition and sign the legislation.

There were a number of times when it seemed that the bill was dead for the session but backers of the legislation said public support helped keep it in play at the Statehouse.

"It just gets the message out that we are serious about hand held devices and texting. That we are going to make an all out effort to ban it." Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza

Under the final compromise, it will be illegal for a driver to use any hand held electronic device, including a cell phone, while operating a vehicle. There will be financial penalties for violating the law but no points will be assessed on a driver’s license.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Dick Mazza says the proposal should make it much easier for the police to enforce the state’s existing ban on texting while driving.

“I believe the fine is just as good as points it doesn’t hurt people’s insurance,” said Mazza. “It just gets the message out that we’re serious about hand held devices and texting, that we’re going to make an all out effort to ban it.”

The legislation goes into effect on Oct. 1. To prepare the driving public about this change, an educational campaign will be launched this summer. 

Moretown Rep. Maxine Grad has been a strong supporter of this bill for several years. She says it’s important to phase it in.

“There’s going to be an educational component, that part of the bill is effective in July, and the thinking is let Vermonters know that there is going to be a change in the law,” said Grad. “It’s proved effective in other states and it’ll be multi media, newspapers, radio, on our highways and then the law itself will go into effect in October.”

And Grad thinks the proposal will have a positive impact on the behavior of drivers.

“I really do, and actually we heard testimony in our committee that once it becomes law people will change their behaviors,” said Grad. “So I do think that this will be self-enforcing and we will see behavior change.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears didn’t support the conference committee compromise. But he says the final version of the bill is considerably better than the original version because it doesn’t include any points for drivers who violate the law.

“So that some teenager that gets pulled over for talking on the cell phone might get a fine but they’re not going to have points against their license, which would probably result in a license suspension that sort of thing,” said Sears. “So I think they came a long way, but I just can’t support it at this point.

Gov. Shumlin strongly opposed the original House bill but in a prepared statement he said he expects to sign this compromise because violations of the law won’t harm an individual’s driving record.