Speaker Calls For Comprehensive Ban On Cell Phone Use While Driving

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(Host) House Speaker Shap Smith is calling on lawmakers to pass a comprehensive highway safety bill this session.

He wants the proposal to include a ban on texting and a ban on using a hand held cell phone while driving.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the House and Senate are split on the legislation.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­(Kinzel) Flanked by members of the House Transportation and Judiciary committees, Speaker Smith said the time has come for the Legislature to address these issues in a global and comprehensive manner:

(Smith) "This really is about highway safety and distracted driving and we want to make sure that we’re doing all that we can do to makes sure that our roads are safe.( and if we’re not taking initiatives that are within our power to do that then we really are failing the citizens of the state of Vermont."

(Kinzel) Moretown Rep. Maxine Grad is vice chair of the House Judiciary committee – a panel that has spent a lot of time on highway safety issues. She says many of her constituents are concerned about cell phone use by drivers:

(Grad) "I continue to receive numerous emails and phone calls asking for us to address the use of cell phones. I actually can’t go the grocery store without being stopped – asking, ‘what are you doing, what’s happening, where’s it going, where’s that cell phone law… this is a public health risk.’"

(Kinzel) The Senate Transportation is taking a very different approach to highway safety. It wants to consider each issue as a separate piece of legislation.

Committee chairman Dick Mazza says while many people support a texting ban, they might not support a ban on hand held cell phones:

(Mazza) "It’s a different issue. There’s going to be a different population that’s either going to be against it or for it. That’s why we thought the texting ban – I didn’t have anyone appear before our hearing that supported not banning texting."

(Kinzel) Under the House plan, the texting ban, the ban on hand held cell phones and the state’s seat belt law would all be subject to primary enforcement – that means a police officer could stop a driver for any of these infractions.

Mazza isn’t so sure that this is a sound approach:

(Mazza) "We can’t primarily enforce everything. There’s a point when you have to use some common sense out there and I just don’t think that we’re going to mandate and prosecute everything single thing that’s listed, because the list could go on and on – whether it’s drinking a coffee or whatever, eating a sandwich. So primary seat belts, I’m sure, will be up for discussion but we’ll take that as it comes."

(Kinzel) The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill that bans texting by the end of this week.

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

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