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Vermont Considers Tougher Distracted Driving Penalties

March 16, 2016

Photo of Vermont State House by Justin A. Wilcox via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Vermont State House by Justin A. Wilcox via Wikimedia Commons.

To combat the growing problem of distracted driving, the Vermont House on March 15 voted to create a two-point penalty for drivers caught using a handheld phone or other electronic device while driving, the Burlington Free Press reported.  

The point penalty would rise to seven points when the infraction occurs in a work zone or school zone. A driver’s license in Vermont is suspended once a driver has accumulated 10 points.

Texting while driving would continue to carry a five-point penalty.

The proposed tougher penalties for distracted driving are now part of a broader bill (H571) focused primarily on driver’s license suspensions and reinstatement fees. A third reading of the bill has been ordered.

In other state news, Vermont may become the first state in the U.S. to legalize recreational use of marijuana through legislation rather than voter initiative. This month members of the House will begin considering the merits of legislation that state senators passed in February.

Under the bill, adults over 21 would be permitted to purchase and smoke marijuana beginning in 2018. However, growing plants at home and selling edible products containing marijuana extracts would remain illegal. The drug would carry a 25% sales tax.

The current legislative session adjourns in late May, providing a tight deadline. But there appears to be substantial public support for the proposed change. A 2015 RAND Corp. study found that one in eight Vermont residents already use the drug illegally.

Four states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska – have already legalized marijuana through ballot measures.

This trend has raised questions for corporate fleet policy makers.

In June 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court made a ruling of particular interest to fleet managers employed by companies with zero-tolerance drug policies. In a 6-0 decision, the justices upheld lower court rulings that affirmed the right of businesses to fire employees for the use of medical marijuana, even if the use occurs during off-hours at home. The decision was based on the fact that marijuana use is still in violation of federal criminal law.

The case involved a Dish Network employee, Brandon Coats, who was fired for failing a drug test back in 2010.

Coats had become a quadriplegic in a car accident as a teenager. His state-licensed use of medical marijuana was intended to treat muscle spasms associated with his medical condition. He consumed the medical marijuana at home while he wasn’t working. After the drug test led to his firing, Coats filed a wrongful termination suit against Dish.

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