Will Vt. lawmakers ban hand-held cellphones behind the wheel? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Will Vt. lawmakers ban hand-held cellphones behind the wheel?

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It's a law that's been proposed over and over again, but this year attitudes may be shifting about cellphone use behind the wheel. If the measure passes, Vermont would become the 13th state to ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.

Last year, the Legislature banned texting and driving and all use of electronic devices within a work zone. Now the work zone ban could be expanded to every roadway in the Green Mountain State.

In a survey they plan to hold annually on student texting behind the wheel, the Vermont Department of Health found that 60 percent of Vermont's high school seniors send electronic messages while driving. One-third of all high schoolers admit to the practice, as well.

Even picking up the phone is against the law for junior operators, as well as truckers and anyone driving through a work zone.

Texting while driving is against the law for all drivers.

"Honestly, the Legislature is one of the last holdouts of people who like to use their cars as their office," said Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden County.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Phil Baruth proposed an all-out ban on electronic device use while driving last year. But opposition within key committees like transportation stalled any movement.

"I will keep proposing it until something gets done, but I think you reach a tipping point on a lot of these issues," Baruth said.

That tipping point may have finally arrived for Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza, though. He says the texting ban has been ineffective because officers can't always distinguish acceptable phone use from unacceptable uses. An all-out ban would make it obvious.

"I'm really open this year to listen to testimony and in the past I wasn't. But, it is an issue of safety and I'm really concerned about the amount of accidents we're having. If it can prove it's going to cut down on our accidents I'm going to support it," said Mazza, D-Grand Isle.

The state police already ban the practice within their ranks, though the bill would provide exemptions for emergency responders.

Reporter Kyle Midura: Should there be one for legislators?

Sen. Dick Mazza: No, no there shouldn't.

Kyle Midura: Journalists?

Dick Mazza: No, not journalists either.

To put the texting and driving numbers in perspective, the health department reports that significantly more students do so than drink, smoke or use prescription drugs.

In previous years, Gov. Shumlin did not support an all-out ban; it's unclear if his position on the issue has changed.

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