What you need to Know About the Hands-Free Cellphone Law

  • 1. Overview
  • 2. When does the law take effect?
  • 3. What devices are banned?
  • 4. Can a law enforcement officer stop me for holding an electronic device?
  • 5. Can I use a hands-free device like Bluetooth?
  • 6. Can I use my cellphone in an emergency?
  • 7. What are the fines for violating the law?
  • 8. Are there any exceptions?
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1. Overview

Flip through these cards for everything you need to know about Vermont’s new law banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. The law, which goes into effect Wednesday, Oct.1, was an attempt, in part, to help police enforce an earlier ban on texting while driving. Many drivers who were cited for texting while driving claimed they were simply making a call, police said. The law essentially applies an existing law banning the use of these devices in a work zone to all driving situations.

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2. When does the law take effect?

 

 

The Vermont Department of Public Safety posted highway signs warning drivers of the new law banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

The Vermont Department of Public Safety posted highway signs warning drivers of the new law banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

Beginning Oct. 1, Vermonters will no longer be able to hold their cellphones and other electronic devices while driving. The Legislature passed the ban on hand-held devices in May after reaching a compromise with Gov. Peter Shumlin.  Drivers under 18 are not allowed to use hand-held or hands-free devices at all. The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the House but bogged down in the Senate Judiciary Committee over broader concerns about distracted driving. It was revived as part of a highway bill and was passed shortly before adjournment.

Related Story: Governor Will Sign Ban on Hand-held Cellphone Use While Driving

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3. What devices are banned?

Drivers may not hold their iPods or MP3 players. Creative Commons photo

Drivers may not hold their iPods or MP3 players. Creative Commons photo

Drivers cannot use cellphones, iPods, MP3 players or any other hand-held electronic device while driving. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, but the language of those laws varies.

 

Related Story: Bill to Ban Hand-held Cellphone Use While Driving Takes Shape

 

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4. Can a law enforcement officer stop me for holding an electronic device?

Beginning Oct. 1, 2014, police can pull over drivers for using a hand-held cellphone while driving. Vermont State Police photo

Beginning Oct. 1, 2014, police can pull over drivers for using a hand-held cellphone while driving. Vermont State Police photo

Yes. S.314 makes driving while using a hand-held device a primary offense, in which an officer has cause to pull a driver over. Drivers can use their phones while legally parked and out of traffic.

Read the law.

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5. Can I use a hands-free device like Bluetooth?

Yes. Drivers can use their cellphones or electronic devices as long as they are connected to hands-free systems. It is the act of holding the device while driving that is prohibited. The law allows drivers to use their hands to activate the device, so long as it is securely mounted. The holder cannot be affixed to the windshield.

Click here for a list of approved devices.

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6. Can I use my cellphone in an emergency?

Photo by Ray Dumas/Creative Commons

Photo by Ray Dumas/Creative Commons

Yes. The law allows drivers to communicate with law enforcement and emergency officials in an emergency situation. Drivers may also use hand-held devices while their vehicle is legally parked and out of traffic.

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7. What are the fines for violating the law?

The fine for a first offense is not less than $100 and not more than $200. The fine for a second offense within a two-year period is not less than $250 and not more than $500. No points are charged against a driver’s license for offenses that occur outside a work zone. Police say the law might force drivers to think about other forms of distracted driving, including trumpet-playing while driving.Trumpet

A Vermont uniform traffic ticket. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

A Vermont uniform traffic ticket. Photo by Tom Brown/VTDigger

More.

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8. Are there any exceptions?

Mitch Stern of Radio Amateurs of Northern Vermont talks on his ham radio. Photo courtesy of Mitch Stern

Mitch Stern of Radio Amateurs of Northern Vermont talks on his ham radio. Photo courtesy of Mitch Stern

Yes. The law does not apply to two-way or citizen’s-band radios or equipment used by amateur radio operators in accordance with existing law. CDL drivers, such as those who operate tractor trailers, are already prohibited by federal law from using cellphones while driving. Washington state, Oregon, Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey also have an exemption for amateur radio operators.

 

 

More about Ham Radio exemption.

Comments

  1. Pete Novick :

    Like my dad always said, “If you make a rule, you gotta enforce it.”

    There is a better solution available now because the GPS resolution is so much more accurate than even a few years ago.

    Install software in the cellphone that automatically shuts off the phone above a certain speed, as measured by the TDMA/CDMA send/receive times (this is in microseconds if you are interested).

    Of course, this means that, while driving to work, you won’t get the call from your child who has discovered a scary looking person in your garage.

    Like my dad always said, “If you make a rule, you gotta enforce it.”

    Ha ha ha

  2. David Usher :

    Is this an inside joke?

    “Police say the law might force drivers to think about other forms of distracted driving, including trumpet-playing while driving.”

  3. Peter Hack :

    So I can “activate” the device but not hold it. But thank god I’m still allowed to play with my 6 CD changer, radio and XFM, eat my lunch, drink my coffee, have my dog on my lap, discipline my kids in the back, put on a DVD for them, follow my GPS or map, adjust my hat & mittens, scrape my windshield (inside or out), blow my nose, try to learn & operate the increasingly confusing controls for the radio, heat, GPS, speed, lights etc, and, of course, look at the scenery. although I see them taking that away from me too in the near future. What ever happened to just “being in control of your vehicle at all times” no matter what?

  4. jason wells :

    “Portable electronic device means a portable electronic or computing device, including a cellular telephone, personal digital assistant
    (PDA), or laptop computer. Portable electronic device does not include a twoway or Citizens Band radio, or equipment used by a licensed Amateur Radio operator in accordance with 47 C.F.R. part 97. ”

    So does this include e-cigs, ipods, heart monitors, watches, gps units or electronic cigarette lighters?

    Is there any aspect of life The State does not want to control?

    Wouldn’t it have been more simple for the police to just do their job and pull folks over who cant handle driving and talking and charge them with distracted driving? The majority of folks can handle driving and talking why should I be penalized for a few bad drivers who would break this so called law anyways????

    • Steven Farnham :

      Jason,

      I quite agree with you – why not penalize those who are the problem, and leave those of us who can handle multi-tasking alone?

      The problem is with enforceability. Using your method, the cop must see the person wavering in the road WHILE phoning. The concurrence of these events will make enforcement nearly impossible.

      For a ticket to be issued, digital device needs to be in driver’s hand and in view of officer outside car. Driver needs to be driving badly. Cop must be present to see it.

      I don’t like this law either, but sadly, evidence seems to indicate that it is needed.

      Peter Hack makes a good point – we have miles to go….

      • jason wells :

        Steven, The cop does NOT need to see you holding your phone. Weaving not paying attention etc are all things you can and should be pulled over for. Having a phone in your hand is irrelevant it could be a coffee or lunch distracted is distracted. Whats next some yahoo crashes while eating a burger and the State’s next move is to ban eating and driving for everyone?

  5. David Bresett :

    More laws for cops to intrude into everyones life. One step closer to a police state.

  6. John M Farrell :

    Living in Norwich, Vermont, ” home of the elite”
    I see an awful lot of drivers driving right thru town on their way to work on their cell phones either talking or texting. Sooner or later these scofflaws will have an accident. The hand held device is unenforceable period!!

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