Proposed Bills: S.0133, H.0026, H.530

The Vermont legislature is currently passing a bill that will ban hand held cell phones while driving (for teen drivers or for all drivers depending on whether the house’s version or the senate’s version passes). It will also make not wearing a seatbelt a primary violation, meaning the police can pull people over if they see someone not wearing their seatbelt. And most controversially, the house’s version will ban youth drivers from driving between 12:00am and 5:00am unless going to or returning from a school function or a job.

A law that bans cell phones is legitimate as long AS LONG AS IT DOES NOT DESCRIMINATE BY AGE. According to the associated press in an article “Several states bar teen drivers using cell phones”, studies show that youth drivers impaired and distracted by using a cell phone have average reaction times equal to senior citizens. If this is such a big safety concern then why only address youth impairment? Senior citizens must be even more dangerous when using a cell phone. This law could not pass if it restricted only senior citizens from using cell phones, even though they would be doubly impaired. The house’s ban on hand held cell phones is acceptable morally if possibly ineffective, but banning even hands free phones for youth and not for adults is discriminatory and unjustified. The senate’s ban on youth using cell phones on the road is even more broadly discriminatory.

The teen-driving curfew is completely unjustifiable, and can be seen easily as discriminatory in light of the exceptions that go along with it. Apparently the only acceptable things for a teen to do (at night or otherwise) are school, school related activities, and work. The other objections that were given were equally condescending. Turkey hunting, family duties and other such, legitimate, and wholesome activities were cited as justified excursions that would be banned by the law. Are teens unfit for social interaction? The law clearly is aimed at late night teen parties, but is it acceptable to say that teens should not be able to have parties in the nighttime? Apparently because some youth drinking parties exist, all gatherings should be illegal. Of coarse adults have infinite legitimate reasons to be on the road at night, including social gatherings if I know anything about the minds of adults, but the legitimate things that would justify teens on the road at night are only school and work (and maybe hunting, family necessity, or some such other question). Even the progressive Vermont legislature is disturbingly ageist, a hotbed of discrimination against Vermont’s youth.

Also making lack of a seatbelt a primary violation will do more to help law enforcement circumvent the law than to strengthen safety regulations.

“Every study shows seat belts save lives. Every study shows seat belts save money. Every law enforcement agency in this state supports primary seat-belt enforcement.” said Rep. Andrew Donaghy, R-Poultney.

Why would representative Andrew Donaghy care what law enforcement agencies think about seatbelt requirements? Law enforcement’s is not an expert on safety measures, especially not seatbelts. Even if Vermont law enforcement had performed their own research on seat belt effectiveness, their bias would make their recommendations worthless. If a police officer can pull anyone over for not wearing (or supposedly not wearing) their seatbelt, it gives them more freedom to detain people for other reasons. The police already take advantage of primary violations like failing to use a turning signal or hanging something from a rear view mirror to stop youth suspected of going to or leaving a party, and the seatbelt law would only make it easier for them. Even if they can only claim that they saw a seatbelt off, once a car has been stopped they can ask questions and look in the car towards whatever goal they have.