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Last year there were 58 traffic fatalities in Vermont and 129 COVID-related deaths.

For the latter, we shut the state down and blew through way over a billion dollars in government aid to prop up shuttered businesses, schools, cities and towns.

Vermont roads were also significantly less traveled (we know from gas receipts) but there were 11 more fatal crashes in 2020 than the previous year.

One crash stands out in our memory because it was caused by a 16-year-old — Isabel Jennifer Seward — who was fined $220 for killing an elderly couple in September. Seward comes from a prominent family. She gave at least three different stories about her cell phone use, including one on the scene to Charlotte Rescue personnel that she was texting before the crash. Her mom paid the small fine for the offense of “driving on roadways laned for traffic.”

For reasons we will never comprehend, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George tried to cover up the crash and went after State Police who released Seward’s name to the public. George’s tirade caused the police to attempt to bury the ticket.

All of this brings us back to the danger of driving on Vermont roads.

As Seward’s tragic actions remind us, the current penalties aren’t sufficient to deter anyone’s selfish, stupid, deadly behavior behind the wheel. In Vermont, there’s a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum of $200 for first offense distracted driving. A second or subsequent offense is $250 to not more than $500.

Based on all the people we see looking at their laps instead of at the road, we’d say it’s not working.

For the past bunch of years, Derby Rep. Brian Smith has led a charge to stiffen the fines. We see he’s back this session with H.262, and backed in the bipartisan effort by a number of other local reps.

We are totally confused why lawmakers don’t back Smith.

A CDC report says 10 Americans a day are killed by distracted driving and 1,000 are injured. Vermont State Police say distracted driving accounts for approximately 17 percent of serious crashes.

There were 3,600 texting violations in Vermont in 2018 and 4,500 the year before that.

But anyone on the road — walking, biking, riding or driving — knows that’s a poor reflection of the problem’s scope. At any given time about half the drivers we see are looking down at their phones.

The truth, as much as we hate to admit it, is that humans can’t be trusted to police themselves on this one. And the results are often catastrophic.

In light of this senseless carnage, we hope Rep. Smith is finally successful in his bid to make our roads safer.

— Caledonian Record, Feb. 24

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