Starting October 1, Vermont will ban the use of handheld electronic devices while driving. Portable devices that will be prohibited under a new law signed earlier this year by Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., include cell phones, PDAs, laptops, tablets, MP3 players, and gaming devices. "This is a safety concern," said Lt. Garry Scott of the Vermont State Police. "We want our roads to be safe for everyone."
Scott told New England Cable News he blames distraction for around 500 crashes in the state each year. He acknowledged a previous texting ban was hard to enforce, because while sending a text message was illegal, a person was not expressly prohibited from using Twitter on their phone, for example. The new law is more black and white, Scott said: handle a device and get pulled over.
But are people ready? "Come October first, I think it'll be a little bit of a shock to people," Scott said.
An education campaign is ramping up to let Vermonters know about the change. A fine for a first offense will be $100. Tickets after that will cost you $200-$500, Scott said. He explained you won't get a point on your license, unless you're using your phone in a work zone.
For more information on the Vermont law, visit the website of the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance.
Dave Birmingham, the owner of several Vermont car dealerships, including 802 Toyota in Berlin, said he expects more car shoppers to ask about hands-free Bluetooth technology built into cars, after the rules finally sink in. "I think it's going to take some time to get everybody on board with [the new law]," Birmingham said. "You don't have to get a new car to get hands-free, but I think a lot of people are headed that way."
John Noisy Hawk of AT&T Wireless told NECN that customers at his store in South Burlington have been buying up cradles and earpieces for phones. Phones cannot simply stay in your lap, because police don't want drivers looking down. Devices must be securely mounted to the vehicle, but not on the windshield or in a place that will obstruct a driver’s view of the road.
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Noisy Hawk's store is advertising the upcoming rules with fliers and signage. "It definitely is a big change," Noisy Hawk said of the culture shift of going hands-free.
Noisy Hawk said he is also pointing Android and Blackberry users to an app called DriveMode, provided free by AT&T Wireless. DriveMode keeps your phone silent and sends people an automatic message if they text you while your car's moving, Noisy Hawk explained. You can program the app to allow certain calls deemed as urgent. Any incoming calls or texts that the app mutes while driving are saved for when you've arrived at your destination, Noisy Hawk explained.
"This is the easiest thing that you can possibly do to make sure you're not distracted," Noisy Hawk said of the DriveMode app, which he added should eventually be available on smart phones using other operating systems. "It does the work for you of blocking that distraction. You're not going to get alerts or sounds, and you can keep your hands on the wheel."
There are some exceptions to the handheld device ban, according to the Vermont State Police. You are still allowed to use a CB radio or call 911 in case of an emergency, Lt. Scott said.
Distracted driving laws vary state-to-state. In the Northeast, Connecticut and New York already had primary bans on using handheld devices while driving. New Hampshire's handheld ban takes effect the summer of 2015. For more on distracted driving laws, visit the website of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
For more on distracted driving, visit the official U.S. Government website on the topic, Distraction.gov.