All the states in the US have financial responsibility laws. Although they could be considered slightly old-fashioned, the reasons for their implementation remain relevant today. The general legal system of civil law is fault-based. So whoever causes loss or damage is held accountable and must pay to repair the damage. Given the number of people injured and killed on American roads, it’s obviously dangerous to drive. That’s why states have made it mandatory that everyone who exposes others to the risk of injury should either have an auto insurance policy in place, or should have a minimum amount of cash available to meet liability claims should anyone be injured. In Vermont (VT), Title 23, Chapter 11 makes it an offense to drive a motor vehicle on a public road without liability cover in the amounts of $25,000 for one person injured, $50,000 for two more more people injured, and $10,000 for the repair of property damaged. This form of insurance is tied to particular vehicles. If an individual can prove net worth of $115,000, the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles can authorize the person to drive any vehicle whether owned, leased, rented, or legally borrowed. A failure to comply with this financial responsibility law can result in a fine and the imposition of points. For repeat offenses or if other driving offenses were committed, the driver’s license can be suspended. In a recent survey of all US states to produce an average annual premium rate, Vermont had the lowest average at $995. As a result, Vermont has the lowest number of uninsured drivers in America.
ATVs and snowmobiles
All-terrain vehicles are defined in Title 23: Chapter 31 as motor vehicles for the purposes of registration, insurance and the general laws regulating driving, e.g. speeding, DWI, and so on. That means all recreational wheeled vehicles capable of being used on land, swamps, marsh and water must display a valid registration certificate when used on public land or roads. As from September 1, 2003 this was extended to all individuals operating a snowmobile in Vermont on the statewide trails system. Liability auto insurance is mandatory in the ratio 25/50/10 or a bond proving the availability of $115,000 must be filed with the Commissioner. As with all other vehicle types, drivers must carry proof of insurance and show it if asked by an authorized person. Because speed increases the risk of injuries, it’s increasingly common practice for enforcement officers to use hand-held radar guns on snowmobile trails. There’s an overall maximum limit of 35 mph on state land which includes the trails. If the use of snowmobiles is approved on a particular stretch of public road, the usual speed limits apply. The offense of snowmobiling while intoxicated covers both drugs and alcohol if the vehicle is being operated on the VAST trail system. Drunken snowmobilers who are driving on public roads will be charged with the general DWI offense. If convicted, points will be applied and the driver’s license will be suspended. Under Vermont law, a driver of a non-commercial vehicle is considered drunk when their blood alcohol level is .08 or more.
What to do if there’s an accident
If anyone is injured in an accident or the value of damage to property is more than $3,000, the drivers are required to file a report with the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles within seventy-two hours of the accident. For these purposes, note that there’s no minimum level of injury. The report must be filed even though the injury is slight and clears up quickly. Given the cost of replacement parts and the labor to fit them, it’s also easy for the cost of the damage to exceed $3,000. It’s therefore wise to report all accidents whether it involves a collision with another vehicle, an animal like a moose, or a fence. If a driver is lying in hospital unconscious or unable to move, this excuses the failure to report.
Within five days of the accident, the owner and driver, if different, should notify all people injured or suffering damage to their property of the name and address of their auto insurance company and sufficient information for them to identify the policy. All policyholders should read their terms and conditions carefully. All insurance companies require reports to be made of any accident. If the policyholder does not file such a report within the time limit, the insurer can refuse to pay out on any claim, leaving it to the driver to meet the liability claim(s) out of his or her own pockets. As a matter of procedure, car insurance companies and the police also notify the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles of reported accidents. This helps the state compile reliable statistics about the number of accidents, how many injured and killed, the extent of property damage, and so on. This additional reports can therefore trigger a prosecution if the driver has not filed his or her own report to the Commissioner.
Driving safety laws
It’s an offense for the driver to be in motion on a public road if one or more passengers are not wearing a safety belt. As from January 1, 2004, everyone under the age of eighteen must wear a seatbelt or age-appropriate restraints when carried as a passenger on a public road. Before the child’s first birthday, the restraint must be in a rear-facing position and properly secured in a rear seat. Children weighing less than 20 pounds cannot be restrained facing forward where there are air bags. There are no medical exemptions. If a driver is found with an unrestrained child, he or she can be fined. No points are added to the driver’s license. These regulations do not apply to a type 1 school bus which is manufactured without seat belt or other restraints. Children being carried by the state are free to run around and be thrown about if there’s a crash.
As from June 1, 2010, it’s an offense to text while driving. More generally, all drivers under the age of eighteen are prohibited from using any portable electronic mobile device, e.g. a cell phone, PDA or laptop. Fines and points are imposed for the first and subsequent offenses.