Police to target all forms of distracted driving
Belfast — This week the Belfast Police Department charged a Searsport woman for texting while operating a motor vehicle, and Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden said drivers can expect to face the same charge if caught texting or engaged in other distracting activities while driving.
Maria Connors, 24, of Searsport was issued a summons for that charge following an incident that occurred early Saturday morning, Sept. 8.
McFadden said Connors drew the attention of police when off-duty Belfast officer Brian Lunt observed a pickup truck that was being operated erratically through downtown Belfast at about 1 a.m.
"He saw the vehicle was all over the road, so he called it in," said McFadden. "An officer then stopped the vehicle and determined what the issue was."
The issue, said McFadden, was that Connors was allegedly texting at the time Lunt observed her vehicle, and McFadden said that's something the Belfast Police Department will be on the lookout for into the foreseeable future.
McFadden said he is exploring grant opportunities to increase targeted patrols to combat texting while driving, and while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration currently has no grants designated for that specific purpose, McFadden said it's only a matter of time before that type of funding becomes available.
"This really takes people's lives into their own hands," said McFadden. "It's a huge issue."
McFadden said the problem is widespread, and recalled seeing drivers engaged in texting several times a day while he was on the road when he worked as an investigator for the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit.
While the grant money may not be an option now, McFadden said that won't stop Belfast officers from summoning drivers who they see engaged in that activity.
"Don't text while you're driving through Belfast," he said. "There is zero tolerance for that."
Since the ban on texting while driving went into effect in Maine last fall, police have cracked down, but McFadden said more enforcement is needed because accidents associated with all forms of distracted driving continue to keep police busy.
Aug. 29, Belfast police responded to a rear-end collision that resulted in injuries because one of the drivers was allegedly texting at the time the Route 1 crash occurred. McFadden said the guardrail on Route 1 on the east side of the city has been damaged as the result of vehicle collisions twice in less than a month's time, and both occasions he attributed the wrecks to either texting while at the wheel or some other form of distraction.
Either way drivers who find themselves in similar predicaments can expect a ticket of one kind or another, McFadden said, even if they deny they were texting at the time of the crash.
"A classic example is when an officer goes to the scene of an accident and asks the driver if they were texting," said McFadden. "They might say, 'Oh, no, I was picking up a coffee cup.' Well, because the person lied, we can't charge them with texting while driving."
Police can, however, hit drivers with another citation — failure to maintain control of the motor vehicle.
"You're not getting away with it if you get into an accident and think it's a good idea to tell the officer you were just reaching down to get your coffee and the guardrail just jumped out in front of you," said McFadden. "That's not going to work, and you're going to get a ticket."