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

Will Vt. ban hand-held devices behind the wheel?

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A ban on using hand-held devices while driving in Vermont is on the fast track. The House Transportation Committee unanimously voted to send the bill for a House vote.

Lawmakers pushing for the measure say it all boils down to a matter of safety.

"I see a lot of instances out there that could be avoided. People are just oblivious to their surroundings when they're on the phone-- driving through work zones especially-- are just not aware of their surroundings and every now and then we have to legislate a little common sense," said Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester.

Under the bill, any use of a hand-held device for talking, playing games, checking email or anything else would be against the law. But it's OK to use devices with a hand-free capability like Bluetooth that require a one-touch to activate.

If caught, first offenders would pay upward of $200 and get two points on their license. A second offense would be $500 and five points-- penalties that don't sit well with some.

"For a bill that I would say 4 out of 10, 5 out of 5 people are most likely to break in today's society-- just the way we are with our lives, our work-- is, I think is a little harsh," said Rep. Timothy Corcoran, D-Bennington.

Right now only commercial operators like truck drivers are allowed to use hand-held microphones like a CB radio. That will continue under the bill.

But there are some questions remaining. Should the 2,000 or so amateur ham radio operators that use hand-held mics also be exempted?

The state's current stand-alone texting ban has drawn criticism over its enforceability. Only about 200 tickets have been issued since it took effect last summer.

Lawmakers say the outright ban on hand-held devices provides more clarity.

"Now when someone sees a cellphone to someone's ear, someone talking into it, then they know they're breaking the law. It's a little more clear that it's not acceptable," Brennan said.

Lawmakers say they have heard a clear call from Vermonters that want this to happen, but the issue doesn't seem to follow any party lines.

"As a fire and rescue chief, it's just one of these bills that I can't vote another way other than to say that I know this might not be as popular to some of my constituents-- and actually some of my fellow caucus members-- however, I know and believe it's the best thing and that I will be supporting this bill," said Rep. Don Turner, R-Minority Leader.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, doesn't support the measure but has not said if he'll veto it. The House is expected to take up the bill Thursday.

Twelve states and territories have approved laws banning cellphones while driving, including New York, which was the first to do so.

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