Distracted driving legislation debate brewing - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Distracted driving legislation debate brewing

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MONTPELIER, Vt. - The highways are busy, people are on the move and before cellphones and smartphones the biggest distraction might have been changing the radio dial. But when cellphones and smartphones came about, a new distraction arrived behind the wheel-- texting while driving.

The Vermont Legislature thought they had that issue in hand. They banned it, but authorities say it's tough to catch someone in the act and so far only a couple of hundred have actually been caught and fined.

"It's very difficult to enforce banning texting while driving because you still can use a hand-held phone," said Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.

So this session the Vermont House approved a bill that would ban the use of hand-held devices while driving and if it became law there would be no more talking, playing games, checking email or anything else on a mobile phone. The bill appeared to be on the fast track, but it's come to a screeching halt thanks in part to Gov. Peter Shumlin. This bill sets the stage for some last-minute drama at the Statehouse between powerful senators and the chief executive.

"I agree with Senator Sears that looking at the question of distracted driving makes a lot of sense. I am less convinced that you pick one thing. It's no better to swerve on the road if you are on a cellphone than if you are eating a sandwich or see people read the newspaper while driving up the highway," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.

Others want change. Mazza changed his mind on the use of mobile devices while driving. The Democrat now finds himself at odds with Governor Shumlin. The two are friends and have worked closely on legislation but not this time.

"I was in the past hearing from folks in the last year or so. It convinced me to do the right thing and just to ban it," said Mazza.

"As I have said, legislating common sense is tough. Let's be smart about how we do it," said Shumlin.

A debate that's likely to get hotter at the Statehouse surrounding safety on the highway.

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