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Do You Phone While Driving? Listen Up!

Charlotte Albright
A speaker for a cell phone can make and receive one-touch calls on a car visor.

In just a few weeks, holding your cell phone while driving will be illegal in Vermont. The new law will take effect on October 1. The legislation calls for a public education campaign beginning in August, but a few of our road warrior employees still had questions, so we did a little research — and shopping.

Each VPR news staffer starts the morning with a conference call to the newsroom, when field reporters are often already en route to a story. So how to comply with the law starting next month?

We asked Lieutenant Garry Scott. He commands the Traffic Safety Unit for the Vermont State Police. Scott says drivers can still use portable phones — but only if they do not hold them in their hands to make and receive calls.

“So the law is now totally hands free," Scott said. "You have to have your phone in some type of cradle or have some type of Bluetooth device within your vehicle where you can communicate basically with a one-touch to activate and de-activate."

If your car has a built-in hands-free audio system like Bluetooth, you are all set. If your car doesn’t have Bluetooth but your phone does, you can buy an earpiece or portable speaker that pairs with your phone for more high quality audio, but it has to be activated with one touch, or by your voice, rather than dialing a set of numbers or writing a text.

Toby Harter manages a technology retail store in St. Johnsbury — a national chain well stocked with hands-free accessories for cell phones.

“Obviously there are quite a few differences in price ranges, from $20 all the way up to $100," Harter says. "And that would be one of my first questions: How often do you plan on using it?”

If the answer is “a lot,” he says a $20 gizmo may be annoyingly tinny. Stroll up to the $60 models and you have to weigh more options. Ear pieces, he points out, can travel with you out of the car, but some people find them annoying. So they would choose speakers. Many iPhones have a personal assistant, so those users will be able to tell Siri to place calls or texts to people in my contacts list.

When you get to your car, you can clip the speaker onto the visor, and turn it on.

“Connected,” it says reassuringly.

With the cell phone on the passenger seat and  both hands on the wheel, you can ask Siri to text, say, VPR’s  news director.

“Siri, send a text to John Dillon,” you might say.

“Okay,” Siri answers sweetly.  “What do you want to say to John Dillon?”

How about: “John, I have found a hands-free solution to our cell phone conference call and I just bought it.”

Siri repeats the text and asks if you want to send it. “Yes,” you say, and pull out of the parking lot, so you can finally get to work.

By the way, if you are under 18, Vermont law does not allow even a hands-free phone call while driving. Texting while driving is forbidden for everyone. Fines for hand-held cell calls vary depending on the offense, but generally start at $100, and can be as high as $500, and, in a work zone, an offense means points on your license.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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