House advances ban on phoning behind the wheel


MONTPELIER -- A bill that would ban the use of all but hands-free cellphones and other electronic devices got the overwhelming support of the Vermont House on Thursday.

After debate that included somber testimony from a lawmaker over the death of his son and several lawmakers confessing to their own use of electronic devices while driving, the House voted 130 to 11 to give the bill preliminary approval.

Prospects uncertain

If it clears final passage on Friday, the bill moves to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said once again he is cool to the measure, but stopped short of a veto threat. Twelve other states have similar laws against using cellphones and other hand-held devices while driving.

Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre Town, introduced the bill to his colleagues, noting that the House had passed similar measures three times in the past decade. "Each time it failed to gain final passage," Koch said. "We are hoping that this time it will go all the way through the process and becomes law."

Rep. Chris Pearson, a Burlington Progressive who ended up supporting the bill, expressed misgivings about the measure with a series of questions.

Pearson listed a series of things he does with his smartphone while driving, including scrolling for songs to listen to through a wireless connection to his car's audio system, using the voice memo feature to give himself reminders and checking the map feature -- all of which Koch said would be barred under the bill's rule that hand-held electronic devices are banned while the vehicle is in motion.

Rep. Mark Huntley, D-Cavendish, told the chamber about the accident that killed his son two years ago, three weeks before he would have turned 18.

Although no official determination had been made by investigators, Huntley told his fellow lawmakers he believed his son had been changing the song on his iPhone when he crashed.

"I'd seen him do it 100 times," Huntley said. "He'd be all over the road."


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