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Shumlin Opposes New Cell Phone Restrictions On Vt. Roads

After a state survey found that the majority of high school seniors in Vermont are texting and driving, distracted driving once again made the news, but Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday that he is firmly against any new laws further restricting the use of electronics while driving.

“I’m not a big believer that you can legislate common sense,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin last May signed a bill that bans the use of handheld devices while driving through work zones.

Outlawing the use of handheld phones while driving won’t fix the problem, Shumlin said, but it will create more outlaws.

“My own view is that cell phones are a part of life today, that if you’re driving down the road and you see that your mom’s calling or your dad’s calling … or you see that your child is calling … chances are, you’re going to pick up the phone,” Shumlin said in front of scores of high school students at Champlain Valley Union High School. “So my point is let’s all be sensible, but I’m not a big fan of passing legislation that we know is going to force people to break the law.”

That stance contradicts the advice of the Governors Highway Safety Program, a national group of which Vermont is a member. A 2011 report from that group entitled “Distracted Driving: What Research Shows and What States Can Do” advised states to enact and enforce laws against the use of handheld devices while driving.

“Handheld cell phone use increases crash risk, probably more than hands-free,” the report said. “Laws reduce but will not eliminate hand-held cell phone use. Laws send a message that handheld cell phone use while driving is unacceptable.”

But Shumlin said that he doesn’t like passing laws to send a message.

“We do things in Montpelier because we want to make a point,” he said.  “I’m just not a big believer in passing bills to make a point. I think we should pass bills that make sense that people will abide by."

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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