Sorry to start on such a negative note, but did you know there are thousands of auto accidents in Vermont every single year? And sadly, most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
The state of Vermont defines distracted driving as “driving while performing any other activity, whether visual, manual or cognitive, that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.”
The Vermont State Police say, “Distracted driving is one of the most serious safety issues on our nation’s roadways.”
Most distracted driving, although hazardous, is perfectly legal. This includes seemingly safe actions like adjusting the radio or A/C knobs, reaching for those missing sunglasses, and even having a conversation with a passenger. Some distractions are unavoidable, but whenever you can minimize distractions, you should.
Currently, Vermont’s driving laws are focused primarily on prohibiting the use of handheld cell phones and other communication devices, leaving other distractions unchecked.
Distracted Driving Statistics in Vermont
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Vermont:
Distracted driving is a contributing factor in 17% of all serious accidents in Vermont.
This hazard causes an average of 7 fatal accidents a year in this state.
That is 11% of all fatal crashes in Vermont.
In October 2014, Vermont became the 13th state to ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving.
Does Vermont Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
Vermont currently prohibits:
Reading, writing, and sending text messages or emails by all drivers
The use of handheld cell phones by all drivers
Watching videos or viewing other electronic entertainment by all drivers
Drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones or other portable communication devices (including MP3 players), even when in hands-free mode.
Vermont compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona
Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Vermont?
Vermont offers the following exceptions to its distracted driving laws:
The use of GPS and other navigational systems is allowed. However, these must be preprogrammed prior to driving.
The use of cell phones for drivers under 18 and handheld devices by all drivers is permitted only when the device is being used to summon emergency services.
Vermont Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in Vermont?
Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. Basically, anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard.
So, what happens if a police officer in Vermont sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.
But even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the radio) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, and that can earn you a citation. It's always better to avoid as many distractions as possible.
Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors, or in the parking lot.
What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
Vermont uses primary enforcement.
This means that even if you're in total control of your vehicle while using your phone, any police officer who sees you doing so can pull you over and write up a citation.
What's the Penalty for Distracted Driving in Vermont?
If you get a ticket for violating Vermont’s distracted driving laws, you can expect:
For a first offense: a fine of $100 to $200
For a second or following offense within a 2-year period: a fine of $250 to $500
For offenses that occur in a work zone: the fine above plus two points on your license
How Vermont’s penalties compare with neighboring states
The amount you'll actually be expected to pay is typically higher than the fines listed above, since court costs and administrative and other fees are usually added to the ticket. But the costs don’t end there. This brings us to our next topic: insurance.
Does a Distracted Driving Citation in Vermont Increase Insurance Rates?
Probably. And it’s going to hurt.
Vermont only adds points to your license for a distracted driving violation if it takes place in a work zone, so there's a chance your insurance carrier won't know about the infraction. But if your distracted driving led to an accident or a moving violation, this will be reported and your rates will almost certainly go up — and significantly.
Vermont drivers experience the second highest distracted driving insurance rate increase in the country!
The amount of your rate hike depends on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history. In Vermont, distracted driving citations cause rates to go up an average of $600 a year! That’s $50 a month that you could be spending on a nice night out instead. So you have to ask yourself whether that text message is really worth it.
And if you have a safe driver discount, you can say goodbye to that. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, making your rate increase even more painful.
What If I Drive into Another State?
Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you're required to follow their laws. But Vermont’s distracted driving laws are pretty stringent, so it's unlikely you'll drive into a state with more restrictive laws. But claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip!
Next door in Massachusetts, handheld cell phone use is still legal. Does this mean you can switch from hands-free to handheld as soon as you cross the border? Yes, you can, but why would you? Just because something is legal does not mean it's wise.
What's Vermont Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?
Vermont’s Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) has partnered with the Associated General Contractors of Vermont and the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance (VHSA) to promote safe driving habits when it comes to the use of cell phones. “Project Road Safe” is one of the campaigns currently being run to promote safe practices by commercial drivers.
Additionally, the GHSP is funding efforts by the Youth Safety Council of Vermont (YSC). This group’s goal is to educate teen drivers about the hazards of texting while driving. Using the DMV’s “Turn off Texting” curriculum, this group travels to area high schools to provide on-site teen drivers’ education classes.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting and the Candy Crush until you get home.