Vote On Texting Ban Likely Soon

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(Host) It appears the Senate will soon vote on a bill that prohibits drivers from texting while they’re operating their vehicles.

Senate Transportation chairman Dick Mazza says he strongly supports the legislation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) A group of state, county and local law enforcement officials told the Senate Transportation committee that texting while driving has become a serious safety issue in Vermont that needs to be addressed in the near future.

Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tremblay says the problem is going to get worse unless lawmakers pass some legislation:

(Trembley) "This is about safety. More people die on the roads of Vermont than any other cause in Vermont. It’s a huge concern for all of us to make sure our roads are safe and texting – this new technology and the continuation of this technology, I think we’re only going to see more and more issues as it relates to texting."

(Kinzel) Steve Benard represents the Vermont Sheriff’s Association.  He says accidents caused by distracted drivers are as severe as those caused by drunk drivers and he thinks texting is a major factor in these accidents:

(Benard) "In my 31 years of law enforcement experience we’re seeing the same dynamics of crashes during the day that we used to see at night when drunks would fall asleep and go off the road."

(Kinzel) Last year, Senate Transportation chairman Dick Mazza was reluctant to support a state ban because he viewed the issue as a national problem. But now Mazza says Vermont can’t wait for the passage of a federal law and he thinks the bill has a lot of support:

(Mazza) "I think it has a great chance. I think one of the things that we’ve all heard about – many of my colleagues – are the complaints about texting. We’ve seen it, it’s just increasing daily, so that’s why we’ve taken this early on."

(Kinzel) Last year, the House passed a bill that bans the use of hand held cell phones by drivers. That bill now sits in Mazza’s committee. He says he wants to keep these two issues separate:

(Mazza) "I want to do what I think is doable. And I know that’s another conversation – not that it’s not important but I think separating them, we’ve got a chance to get through one this session and we’ll still continue to discuss cell phones."

(Kinzel) Mazza is hoping to have the bill on the Senate floor for a vote by the end of the month.

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

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