House Committee set to approve highway safety bill

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(Host) The House Judiciary committee is set to give its approval to a comprehensive highway safety bill.

The measure includes primary enforcement for Vermont’s seat belt law, a ban on hand held cell phones while a person is operating a car and a new night time curfew for young drivers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Committee chairman Bill Lippert says most of the key parts of the bill are recommendations made by a statewide summit of local, county and state law enforcement agencies that was held last fall. The summit was organized in response to a dramatic increase in highway fatalities during the last 6 months of 2006.

Lippert says most law enforcement agencies support the adoption of a primary enforcement seat belt law in Vermont.

The state currently has a secondary enforcement law in place which means that a driver can’t be stopped for failing to wear a seat belt but can be issued a ticket for this infraction only if they’re pulled over for another reason.

Lippert says some of the most compelling testimony in favor of a primary enforcement law came from members of fire and rescue squads.

(Lippert) “One of the quotes that I remember clearly was ‘I’ve never unbuckled a dead person at an accident.’ And while it may not be true that it’s never happened, the rescue squad EMT folks have made it very clear that they recognize that having seat belts on saves lives.”

(Kinzel) The bill also includes a ban on the use of hand held cell phones by drivers.

(Lippert) “Many Vermont drivers are holding a cell phone in one hand while trying to keep control of the vehicle and steer with the other hand. And while we don’t think it’s realistic to suggest that cell phones should be banned from cars, I don’t think that’s any more realistic than taking radios out of cars these days, but I really do think that it will increase the control of the vehicle by having hands-free devices required for cell phones as is done currently in the state if New York.”

(Kinzel) Moretown Representative Maxine Grad is the vice chairwoman of the committee. She says many law enforcement agencies also recommended a curfew for 16 and 17-year-old drivers. The curfew could run from midnight to perhaps 6:00 a.m. and would include an exemption for school activities or work.

(Grad) “Vermont is one of 7 states that does not have a night time curfew. The thought behind that is not only their driving skills but DUI – other people. So it’s really a protection measure for the teen inexperienced driver from other drivers at night time. And we did hear testimony that night time is one of the riskiest times of the day for teen drivers.”

(Kinzel) It’s also likely that the legislation will include a total ban on cell phone use by teen drivers.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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