Ban on Cell Phone Use While Driving is Vermont Law

Published 06/12 2014 06:20PM

Updated 06/12 2014 09:06PM

MONTPELIER - If you're not familiar with your cell phone's hands-free features, it's time to get acquainted.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.) signed a bill into law Thursday that bans the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving.

"Distracted driving is something that we're facing as technology out-paces common sense," Shumlin said. When the bill was first introduced, Shumlin was against it--as was Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden). But Shumlin and Mazza both changed their minds when the House put the ban in the Miscellaneous DMV bill, forcing them to consider it more seriously.

"I want to thank the supporters of this bill for appealing to me directly, for telling me their stories, and for telling me to change my mind," Shumlin said.

Texting and driving is already banned in Vermont, but police have struggled to enforce it.

"If we see somebody looking at their phone, can we discern whether or not they are texting or are their looking for their grandmother's number to make a call?" said Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos.

Sen. Dick Mazza says the new law bans drivers from holding their phone at all, including in their lap. They can use a bluetooth headset or ear-buds to help them go hands-free. The phone needs to be mounted on the dash or in the seat next to them. The driver can touch the phone to activate voice dialing, but cannot dial a phone number.

Drivers have until October 1 to get ready, which might mean coughing up cash for new phone accessories like dashboard mounts and headsets.

Small Dog Electronics assistant manager Patrick McCormack says they have already had customers asking what to buy, and the store is stocking up.

"In the past we really only had a couple options, but since we heard about that law changing, we've made an effort to double our inventory," he said.

Vermont joins neighboring states in going hands-free. New York has had a ban since 2004, and New Hampshire passed a bill that's waiting on the Governor's signature.

A VTrans spokesperson says signs reminding drivers will start going up on the interstate this summer.

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