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Shumlin signs ban on hand-held devices for drivers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Shumlin signs ban on hand-held devices for drivers

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Gov. Peter Shumlin Gov. Peter Shumlin
COLCHESTER, Vt. - More than a decade after the fight began to ban drivers from using hand-held devices, Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, signed a bill into law making that happen.

Starting October 1, drivers cannot hold their portable devices to talk, text or look anything up. Vermont already has a law against texting and driving, but police said, it was tough to enforce because how could you prove it.

Debbie Drewniak knows better than anyone else the impact of using a cellphone while driving. She was injured by a "distracted driver."

"This is a really big day for me," said Drewniak.

Debbie watched as Gov. Shumlin signed into law a bill banning the use of portable devices while driving.

Supporters have been fighting for this day for a decade and there was a time, they didn't think they'd see it come during the Shumlin administration.

"It's no secret that I was a late convert to the bill," said Shumlin. "While I had a view that I think some shared that it can be difficult to legislate common sense, 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 try and make our roads more safe." 

It's stories from people like Debbie that changed that.

"I want to thank the supporters of this bill for appealing to me directly, for telling me their stories and for telling me to change my mind," said Shumlin.

State Senator Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County, is a convert too. Mazza spoke to law enforcement officers all over the state and that helped change his mind.

"We had a ban on texting, but that doesn't work unless you have the combination of hand held device and texting," said Sen. Mazza.

Robert Ide is the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles. He says, the state is moving in the right direction as Vermont takes this next step.

"Two years ago at this point in the calendar year, we were at approximately 35 fatalities on Vermont highways. One year ago we were approximately 25 fatalities and this year we are much much closer to 15," said Ide.

The crew from St. Michael's Fire and Rescue responds to accidents and runs into problems even just getting to the scene.

"They don't see the red lights, they don't hear the siren as easily as they would if they didn't have the cellphone to their ear or they weren't distracted by texting or posting to Twitter," said Patrick Mager, St. Michael's Fire and Rescue.

They even ran into trouble just getting to the bill signing.

"We actually had a car stop short and almost get into an accident. We saw them looking down on their phone," said Mike Bodreau, St. Michael's Fire and Rescue.

Debbie says the same thing happened on the day she almost died.

"She was hit outside of her home by someone who was texting and driving," said Karen Drewniak, Debbie’s sister-in-law.

Debbie now spends time talking to teenagers with trial lawyer Chris Maley.

"Thank you so much Debbie for being my inspiration," said Maley.

This father of three has become an advocate after seeing the impact of distracted driving in his own practice.

"I'm hoping people will think of Debbie, what has happened to her is a hundred percent preventable. Never should have happened," said Maley.

"I just hope nobody else has to go through this," said Debbie.

While the new law doesn't go into effect until Oct. 1, you've probably seen the signs on the highway warning drivers not to use cell phones in construction zones. That law is in effect right now.

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