Last updated: March 9, 2015
Texting, cell phone news: State Sen. Roger Katz’s plan for 2015 to bar drivers from using handheld cell phones has hit some turbulence. Katz correctly anticipated that the “libertarian streak” in Maine would be a factor during debate: “We don’t want to be a nanny state, but this just seems like a thing whose time has come,” the senator said. The Transportation Committee voted 7-6 against passage March 6, but the plan will advance to the full Legislature. Fines start at $50, then increase to $250. Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio has the House version but is pushing for the Katz plan.
Gov. Paul LePage appears to favor license suspensions for distracted driving violators. “I think we’re going to have to look at giving them a vacation from driving,” he has said. LePage, who was re-elected in 2014, has vowed to work with lawmakers for a ban on handheld cell phone use. The state currently bans texting & driving for all drivers, but allows cell phone use by adults.
Maine law officers cited 1,080 people for distracted driving in the six months ending March 1, 2015. Of those, 429 were for texting. Officers made 2,179 traffic stops for distracted driving in 2014, resulting in 1,346 warnings and 833 tickets. State Police say a hands-free law would help officers enforce the law since texting motorists cannot claim to be manipulating a cell phone for legal reasons, such as dialing a number.
The Department of Public Safety reports about 8,000 crashes linked to distracted driving between 2011 and 2013. Those crashes resulted in 41 fatalities.
Maine became the 33rd state to ban texting while driving. That law took effect in September 2011 and fines were hiked in 2012.
- Text messaging prohibited for all drivers. Minimum $250 fine.
- Drivers under the age of 18 prohibited from using cell phones while driving.
- Drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses prohibited from using cell phones while driving.
- General distracted driving law penalizes motorists who fail to have their vehicles under control due to wide range of behaviors. Enforcement tied to other traffic offense or accident.
Distracted driving legislation (2015):
SP 60, LD 185: Would outlaw driving while handling a mobile phone. Fine: $50 (first offense), then $250. Exempts doctors, holders of commercial driver’s licenses, etc. Transportation Committee voted 7-6 against passage on March 6. To the full Legislature. (Katz)
HP 178, LD 246: Would prohibit handheld cell phone use while driving. See SP 60, above. (Mastraccio)
Distracted driving notes (2015):
State Rep. Wayne Perry raised an old economic argument against the handheld cell phone bill during debate March 6: “What’s going to happen to the people who can’t afford to spend on the hands-free?” he said. “Are we going to put a subsidy …?” Headsets for cell phones sell for as little as a couple of dollars.
State Sen. Roger Katz told a Feb. 27 hearing on his handheld cell phone bill bill that there were over a dozen fatalities in Maine linked to distracted driving in 2014 — “lives that did not have to end.” The Transportation Committee did not vote on his bill, but plans work sessions on the issue.
Katz’s bill allows for all cell phone use by doctors, drivers with commercial licenses, municipal public works drivers, DOT personnel and first responders. The exceptions aren’t supported by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Sheriffs’ Association, which say the law should apply to all. Katz says he’s “not married to that particular list.”
Earlier, Katz said his handheld cell phone proposal should produce “an interesting debate. It’s come up in Maine before. … Maybe enough time has past so we can take another look at it.” He admits to being a cell phone user while behind the wheel and says hands-free use “is not a lot better” than handheld use. “It just isn’t safe.” Hear Katz discuss his cell phone legislation.
Texting was the most-cited distracted driving offense between Sept. 1, 2014, and March 1. “The largest percentage of drivers cited were for texting, but troopers have also summonsed motorists for eating, reading and putting on makeup,” State Police Chief Robert Williams said.
2014 distracted driving news:
Gov. Paul LePage told an Aug. 5 press conference that he now favors demerit points vs. distracted drivers’ licenses. “I think we’re going to have to look at giving them a vacation from driving,” he said. His comments came as part of a $600,000 distracted driving campaign funded by the federal government.
The Maine Bureau of Highway Safety has added warnings about distracted driving to the sides of 16 tractor-trailers with the wording: “One text or call could WRECK it all.” And: “Survive your drive: No distractions, no excuses.” For work zones, new bright yellow warning signs will say: “Distracted driving kills.” The educational efforts, announced in early August, are part of a broad $600,000 distracted driving campaign funded by federal grants.
2013 distracted driving legislation:
Twelve people died on Maine roads and highways in 2013 because of distracted driving, the Department of Public Safety says. State Police said they stopped and cited about 800 distracted drivers in 2013.
Distracted driving notes (2013):
About 3,000 crashes and 12 deaths were linked to distracted driving in 2013, state officials said. Over the past three years, there were 8,000 crashes and 41 deaths.
2013 distracted driving legislation:
LD 1912: Increases minimum fine for text messaging while driving from $100 to $250. For minor drivers with provisional licenses, increases fines and suspension periods among other general safety changes. Filed as an “after deadline bill” in response to recent distracted driving deaths. Approved by the Senate in a 25-10 vote taken April 12 and then by the House in an 82-61 vote taken the next day. Latest action: Signed by the governor April 24. Takes effect Aug. 30, 2012 — 90 days after Legislature adjourned in May. (Diamond)
LD 1808: Would exempt law officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers from texting and driving ban. Dead. (Nutting)
2012 distracted driving notes:
In 2012, Maine increased the minimum fine for texting & driving to $250, up from $100. The fine hike for all drivers came as part of “An Act To Encourage Responsible Teen Driving.” The act’s many changes affecting minor drivers with provisional licenses include increased fines and suspension periods. The changes were inspired by the 16 traffic deaths of teens and young adults in the year’s first quarter.
Maine State Police ran a summerlong crackdown on distracted driving. While Maine does not ban handheld cell phone use by adult drivers, police have been writing cell phone users tickets if they appear to be driving distracted. Texting is illegal for all drivers. Seat belt use also will be emphasized in the sweep, police say. The sweep began July 1.
Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers requested the legislation (LD 1912) that led to higher fines for texting & driving, as well as more restrictions on young drivers. He said the new law should get results with young drivers: “Two things young people don’t want to lose is their cellphone and their driver’s license.”
The law hikes the minimum fine for texting & driving to $250, increases fines and terms of license suspensions for offenders with juvenile provisional license, and increases the amount of time a repeat offender would lose his or her provisional license. The effective date is Aug. 30, 2012.
Summers cited bipartisan support in the Legislature for the increased penalties. “The willingness to take immediate action on this important issue is a huge accomplishment as we head into the 2012 prom and graduation season,” he said April 24. The law actually takes effect after prom season, but officials and legislators hope the message has been sent.
Police and other emergency responders were intentionally included in the Maine texting & driving ban, even though they’re routinely exempted in other states. House Speaker Robert Nutting’s LD 1808 would apply the exemption, following complaints that police were not able to pull to the side of the road and type. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association hasn’t backed the bill. “We don’t think we should have any special privileges,” a spokesman for the group said at a Transportation Committee hearing Feb. 21. “We don’t believe police officers should be texting any more than the average citizen.”
Police in Maine are experimenting with the use of unmarked vans to peer down on drivers who may be violating the electronic distracted driving laws. “The public sees this every day,” a spokesman said. “But the problem is that police in marked cruisers are at a disadvantage because this activity is quickly put away.” Police in other states have used SUVs in the same effort.
2011 distracted driving notes:
Gov. Paul LePage signed State Sen. Bill Diamond’s bill banning the reading and writing of text messages (and email) on June 3, 2011. The sending of text messages while driving remains legal.
Maine traffic fatalities numbered 136 in 2011, the lowest figure reported since 1959. Some of the credit went to the state’s education efforts against distracted driving and its 2011 ban on texting while behind the wheel.
Police in Berwick say the truck driver killed when he slammed into a train in July was distracted by talking on his cell phone. Peter Barnum, 35, died immediately.
LD 736 and LD 670 received a public hearing March 15 before the Transportation Committee. LD 670 sponsor Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, told the panel she saw no meaningful difference between using a cell phone and text messaging while driving: “In order to text, you have to turn on your phone and you press buttons. In order to use the cellular telephone, you turn it on and you press buttons.”
All Maine legislation over the years that sought to prohibit adults’ use of handheld cell phones while driving has failed to advance.
The Maine Chiefs of Police Association spoke in favor of LD 736 and LD 670 at the Transportation Committee’s hearing of March 15. The state Civil Liberties Union presented its case against the bills.
State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, and AT&T Maine exec Owen Smith wrote an Op/Ed piece carried in the Portland Press Herald that said of LD 736: “The legislation would impose a civil fine of $100 if someone is stopped by a police officer who observes a driver texting. We believe this is enough of a fine to get the attention of drivers, and to get people focused on the danger they put themselves and others in while trying to multitask behind the wheel.”
Diamond’s general distracted driving law went into effect Sept. 12, 2009. He told told the Transportation Committee on March 15, 2011: “The one thing (the 2009 law) hasn’t done, which we hoped it would, is have an impact on the texting.”
2011 distracted driving legislation:
SP 228/LD 736: Outlaws text messaging while driving in Maine. Fine no less than $100. Amended in committee to delete “sending” of texts and email as offenses. Approved by the Senate on April 14 (no roll call vote). Approved by the House in a 129-13 vote on May 19. Final non-roll call approval in the House and Senate on May 23. Latest action: Signed into law by the governor on June 3. (Diamond)
HP 500/LD 670: Would ban use of handheld electronic devices while driving. Hands-free operation OK. Fines: $50 (first offense) then $250. Latest legislative action: Killed by the Transportation Committee on April 13. (Dill)
2010 distracted driving notes:
Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said of his new text messaging legislation completed in October: “While Maine took a big step forward passing a distracted driver law in 2009, it is clear to me now that measure deals more with the effect,” Diamond said Aug. 31. “The proposed ban on texting while driving I have put forward deals better with the cause of the problem.”
AAA Northern New England said Diamond’s campaign for a text messaging law comes at a good time, in late August, as teens are returning to school: “This is an excellent opportunity to remind Maine teen drivers that it is illegal to text while driving until you have reached 18 years of age.”
SP 15/LD 6 — Would make distracted driving an offense. The original legislation cited electronic devices including games, e-mail and texting devices, as well as grooming. These references were removed. Went into effect Sept. 12, 2009.
HP 35/LD 40 — Would prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones unless a hands-free accessory is employed. Also prohibiting handheld cell phone use: HP 96/LD 112. Rejected in transportation committee on Feb. 19.
HP 36/LD 41 — Would prohibit drivers from making cell phone calls unless a hands-free accessory is employed, and from text messaging.
The distracted driving law was enacted June 12, 2009, and signed by Maine’s governor on June 19. It took effect Sept. 12. Read Maine’s distracted driving law.
Sen. Bill Diamond says his overall law targeting distracted drivers (SP 15/LD 6) makes more sense than a list of banned devices for drivers that would need regular updating. “We cannot just focus on cell phones or the electronic device of the day that people are interested in at that moment,” Diamond says. “What we do is focus on the behavior, not what specifically caused it.”
Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, told the Bangor Daily News that Maine’s distracted driving approach — targeting the behavior, not the devices — has drawn interest from the Transportation secretary and other members of the U.S. House.
The cell phone driving legislation from Rep. George Hogan, D–Old Orchard Beach, calls for fines between $50 and $250. “It’s on the minds of every state, and almost every state is more aggressive than Maine,” Hogan said.
Text messaging brings a fine of not less than $500 under the legislation sponsored by Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford (HP 36/LD 41). Cell phone fines under the law would be between $50 and $250.
The Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine, editorialized on texting and driving: “Researchers found texting, as compared to other habits that distract drivers, is exponentially more dangerous than once thought. … Texting is unsafe. Lawmakers in Maine should ban it specifically (not just distracted driving). Drivers should be told of its dangers and punished if caught doing it. It is a safety issue. It’s common sense.” (July 29, 2009)
A hands-free bill died in the state Senate in June 2007.
A study of cell phone-related accidents was mandated by the Legislature, to run through September 2008 with a report due by Jan. 15, 2009. That study was the result of legislation from Rep. Christopher Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, who also authored the state law regarding recycling of used cell phones.