Distracted driver bill becomes law this month

Handheld electronic devices banned while driving
By Fran Gonzalez | Sep 04, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Republican Journal reporter Kendra Caruso illustrates an act that will become illegal as of Sept. 19. The new law makes it illegal to drive a vehicle while holding any electronic device in your hand.

Belfast — A new state law, coming online in two weeks, bans the use of cellphones or any other handheld electronic device while driving.

The distracted driver bill, which goes into effect Sept. 19, is aimed at encouraging "hands-free" behavior.

Since 2011, Maine has banned texting while driving. The new legislation goes a step further, banning all handheld electronic devices.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving killed 3,166 people in 2017 alone.

Maine is among 20 other states and the District of Columbia that prohibit such activity, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“I think we are going to see some tremendous changes in terms of the safety of our highways,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Cumberland, said in the Portland Press Herald.

So what exactly is and isn't allowed?

Texting or talking on a cellphone at a stop light is not allowed. Using a cellphone for directions is allowed, if the device is mounted on the dashboard, in a cup holder, or is otherwise "hands-free." You need to be over age 18 and not operating with an intermediate license or learner's permit to use the hands-free option, and you cannot touch the screen or change the destination while driving.

One exception to the law: Drivers over 18, who are not operating with a learner's permit, are allowed to contact police in an emergency situation.

The law does not include CB radios and personal devices necessary to monitor a driver's medical condition. Bus drivers are permitted to use a handheld electronic device within the scope of their job, as permitted under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations.

What is the difference between using a cellphone for directions and using a vehicle's onboard touchscreen display?

According to Belfast Police Chief Michael McFadden, not much.

This law is designed to curb behavior that causes accidents, he said. And if there is no law against it, he said, people will try and push the envelope.

McFadden broke it down simply: "If you are operating a GPS or opening a can of soda or changing the radio and you are distracted and do something stupid, you will get a ticket anyways."

He said last summer the department did distracted driver details and found that about 50% of drivers coming through the busy intersection at Main, Church and Beaver streets were using cellphones.

Penalties range from $50 for the first offense to $500 and a license suspension for subsequent violations over a three-year period.

Simply put, the new law makes it illegal to drive a vehicle while holding any electronic device in your hand.

You have been warned.

Comments (2)
Posted by: April Small | Sep 10, 2019 15:32

You will find that unless the police witness it there is nothing they can do Eric Schaefer. Sad but people will still do it just like any other behavior that is against the driving laws.



Posted by: Eric Schrader | Sep 05, 2019 02:47

Can we turn somebody in to the police that drives, drinks, eats, smokes, is on their cellphone and yells at the rug rats in the back seat all at the same time?



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