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Don't Touch That Phone: Distracted Driving Law Takes Effect This Fall

Angela Evancie
At a Vermont Agency of Transportation garage in Colchester, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill on June 12 to ban the use of handheld devices while driving.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill into law Thursday that creates a total ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

The bill adds to the state’s existing ban on text messaging while driving.

The governor wasn’t always enthusiastic about the idea.  Shumlin changed his tune over the past few months, and he’s not making any apologies about it.

At an appearance in February, Shumlin was pretty clear on his stance.

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

But at the bill signing Thursday, the governor said he had been convinced.

“While I had a view that I think some shared, that it can be difficult to legislate common sense,” he said, “it has become clear to me in listening to those Vermonters, listening to their voices, listening to their pleas, that Vermonters really want us to sign this bill.”

And Shumlin made a point to drive that last point home – that he’s not being a flip-flopping politician, but one with his ears open.

“This is an example where a governor listens and changes his mind,” he said.

One of the most persistent advocates for the new bill was Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, who has  pushed for the distracted driving law for years.

“This bill will save lives,” she said. “And it will help improve the safety of our roads. We know that cell phone use greatly increases the risk of accidents and deaths, and those accidents and deaths come at a high economic and societal cost.”

The ban on handheld devices while driving will go into effect Oct. 1 of this year. Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Chittenden/Grand Isle, says it will bring renewed enforceability to the state’s distracted driving laws.

“We had a ban on texting, but that doesn’t work unless you have the combination of handheld device and texting,” he said. “There’s no law enforcement officer who could enforce the present law as it is.”

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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