Vermont House Moves Seat Belt, Cell Phone, Teen Driving Bill

May 3, 2007

The Vermont House advanced a bill this week that toughens the state’s seat belt law and bans chatty motorists from using anything but a “handsfree” cell phone while driving.

The bill given preliminary approval by the House also would impose a new midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew on 16- and 17-year-old drivers. Lawmakers say an amendment is expected — when it comes up for final approval — that would require those drivers to have a note from a parent if they want to be out in the wee hours.

Also, so-called “junior operators” would not be allowed to use cell phones while driving.

“We’re talking about saving lives,” said Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown.

On seat belts, the bill would end Vermont’s current status as a “secondary enforcement” seat belt state, in which police can issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only after having pulled a driver over for some other offense. Instead, Vermont would become a “primary enforcement” state, with police allowed to ticket for a seat belt infraction alone.

The seat belt provision was expected to earn the state an additional $3.7 million in federal transportation dollars, which supporters want to use to pay for new buses and vans for Vermont’s 12 public transit agencies.

On cell phones, the bill would require anyone wanting to talk on one while driving to use a “handsfree” device, unless they were involved in an emergency that warranted a 911 call.

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