Senate May Consider Cell Phone Ban For Junior Operators

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(Host) The head of the Senate Transportation committee says it’s unlikely that his panel will support a ban on cell phone use while driving.

But the panel may take a serious look at prohibiting cell phone use by junior operators.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Last week, the Senate gave its approval to a bill that bans texting while driving – now the focus is on the use of cell phones.

As part of that review, the Senate and the House Transportation committees held a joint public hearing on this issue at the Statehouse.

Renee Hall is a student at Hazen Union High School and a member of the Vermont Teen Leadership Safety Program.

She says she supports a ban on cell phones because her father was killed in an accident involving a distracted driver.  She says the arrival of cell phone service in Hardwick has been a mixed blessing:

(Hall) "From there, it’s just accidents have been happening and happening. And it just hits home when it happens to somebody close to you. And it needs to stop and something like this – I know my friends and my family, if there’s a law it would stop. And they wouldn’t do it because if a cop pulls you over one time then they’re probably not going to do it anymore."

(Kinzel) Richmond contractor Gary Grzywna had a very different point of view. He told the panel that he needs to use his cell phone to be in touch with his workers on the road.

But he urged the committee to ban cell phones for junior drivers:

(Grzywna) "If I’ve got a guy that I send to go get materials and also I need something else, I need to call him and say ‘hey I need this or that’. If he can’t pick up the phone and respond, then I’ve lost the productivity of him going and doing that… I feel that if we’re going to deal with cell phones for our junior drivers – they lose their license automatically for 6 months. What hurts a junior driver the most – a license."

(Kinzel) Following the hearing, Senate Transportation chairman Dick Mazza expressed a lot of doubt about imposing an overall cell phone ban:

(Mazza) "I think there’s still a purpose for cell phone uses out there. I’m not ready to say that we should ban them entirely… There are so many responsible folks out there that can use a cell phone. Texting, we know, is a severe problem and we took action on that – we banned it." 

(Kinzel) Mazza says he’s willing to look a cell phone ban on junior drivers but he says the testimony he’s received from teenage drivers is that most of them don’t call their friends – they text them:

(Mazza) "We’ve got to find out how broad the issue is -whether it just pertains to junior operators as I heard now texting is 90% of the problem with junior operators’ licenses."

(Kinzel) While the Senate considers its next move, the House is going ahead with a comprehensive highway safety bill that will include the texting ban, a ban on hand held cell phones for all drivers and primary enforcement of Vermont’s seatbelt law.

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

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