Douglas Opposes Provisions Of Highway Safety Legislation

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(Host) The Vermont House will soon debate a comprehensive highway safety bill that would go well beyond a ban on texting while driving.

Governor Jim Douglas supports the texting ban, but says the House should drop the other provisions of the bill. 

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation was crafted by the House Judiciary committee, and if the bill passes the House next week, it will set up a confrontation with the Senate and the Governor.

That’s because the Senate voted earlier this year to address only the texting while driving issue and decided to postpone consideration of several other issues.

The House bill does several things. It bans texting, it prohibits the use of hand held cell phones, it calls for the primary enforcement of the state’s seat belt law, it prohibits junior drivers from using any electronic devices and it imposes a night time restriction for younger drivers between midnight and 5 a.m.

(Kinzel) Moretown Rep. Maxine Grad is the vice chairwoman of the House Judiciary committee. She says it’s critical for the House to consider a comprehensive approach to highway safety:

(Grad) "The thinking is saving lives and preventing deaths on our highways and the thinking is also based on the testimony that we’ve heard that this is a public health risk it’s a public health threat especially to our youth that deserves comprehensive approach."

(Kinzel) The ban on hand held cell phones is likely to spur active debate on the House floor. Grad says the evidence is clear that a ban is needed:

(Grad) "We know that especially with cell phones your likelihood of getting into a crash while using a cell phone is quadrupled… Frankly, law enforcement has said that people will comply with a total ban and so if we can at least keep two hands on the wheel that might be better."

(Kinzel) But Governor Jim Douglas says it’s a mistake for the House Judiciary committee to seek such a sweeping piece of legislation at this time:

(Douglas) "I think the Legislature should pass the texting ban – that’s an area on which there’s wide agreement – and not get into some of the other distractions, because there isn’t a consensus there. Let’s do that – get it in law and not worry about the other aspects at this point."

(Kinzel) Some members of the Senate argue that the House could be jeopardizing the passage of a texting ban if it insists on including the other provisions in the bill.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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