On October 1, 2014, Vermont will have a new law pertaining to portable electronic devices while driving. This law is designed to reduce distracted driving, a dangerous phenomenon which is unfortunately becoming increasingly common – and deadly – both in Vermont and across the country.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving causes more than 3,000 motor vehicle fatalities each year. At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving – and this number is increasing.
Vermont averages approximately 500 motor vehicle crashes each year that can be related to distracted driving. That means that the distraction was a contributing circumstance to the crash. These crashes result from following too closely, speeding, lane departure, or failing to yield—all of which can be the result of an initial distraction. It can be difficult for the investigating officer to determine whether the violation that caused the crash was due to the operator being distracted. Investigations, which are usually reserved for the most serious motor vehicle crashes, often require search warrants and subpoenas for telephone records. Because of the challenges posed by these investigations, it is difficult to fully quantify the scope of our distracted driving problem in Vermont; however, one thing is for sure: we all have witnessed distracted drivers on our roadways.
The previous law that prohibited texting and driving was very difficult to enforce, as it only prohibited texting. Scrolling through one’s contacts or dialing was not included as an offence in this law. As cell phone users know, any of these activities are distracting, as they all require a person to take his or her eyes off the road for several (at least) seconds.
The new law makes it very clear that: “A person shall not use a hand held portable electronic device while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway.” It remains acceptable to use and activate/deactivate hands-free devices provided that they are securely mounted in a cradle. Violations may result in fines of $100-$500.
This may all seem like a lot of legal maneuvering for a relatively small detail, but it helps to further clarify what constitutes distractions and will help to make Vermont roads safer for all of us. And it reinforces the message that, when you are behind the wheel your primary focus should be on the road.
Wait until you get home to send that text or make that call, or pull over if it simply can’t wait. A little bit of patience and common sense will help you and the rest of us get home safely.
Lt. Garry Scott is a 14-year veteran of the Vermont State Police and current Commander of the Traffic Safety Unit and Crash Reconstruction Team.