by Chris Hedgpeth
Hold the phone! Actually, don’t do that, because it’s illegal now. As of September 19th, a new law proscribes texting and the use of all handheld electronic devices during the operation of a motor vehicle. Several sections of Title 29-A (Maine motor vehicle laws) have been repealed and amended by the comprehensive ban. LD-165, signed into law in June by Governor Janet Mills, does away with §2116 (use of electronic devices by minors), amends §2119 (text messaging), and creates the new §2121, which disallows the use of cell phones and tablets by anyone who is driving a vehicle.
LD-165’s definitions make clear the difference between “text messaging” and “using”. “Texting” is typing messages into a device, and “using” is any other interaction with a device, other than to activate hands-free features (this distinction will be important later). The definition of what constitutes a “handheld electronic device” does not include the car’s operating equipment. If your car has a built-in touch screen, you can still touch it. You can also still use CB and ham radio equipment.
Another important definition to consider is what it means to “operate” a vehicle. If you are behind the wheel and you’re on a public road, you are operating the vehicle. This means even if you’re stopped at a red light, it’s illegal for you to touch your phone or text message. There’s an exception for contacting emergency services and if you’re pulled off the road, you can text and use your phone as long as the car isn’t moving. If you’re driving with a learner’s permit, the exception for making emergency calls does not apply. In this case, you must pull over or let someone else make the call.
So what happens if you break this law? Using your phone while driving will get you a $50 fine. Getting caught using your phone again within three years gets you a $250 fine. Each sub- sequent violation is another $250 fine. If you get caught texting while driving, the first violation carries a fine of “not less than” $250. If you break this law again within three years, you will be fined $500 and automatically have your license suspended (without a right to a hearing) for 30 days. The next time is $500 and a 60 day suspension, and all violations after that will cost you $500 and you will lose your license for 90 days.
Why is this law so important? Taking your eyes off the road for only a second can be the difference between life and death for you, other drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and animals. Your ability to respond to sudden changes in road conditions is hindered when your brain focuses on other activities, even temporarily. Perhaps in the near future we will have cars that drive themselves and respond to hazards faster than our brains ever could. We aren’t there yet. As long as we are responsible for our actions as drivers, distracted driving is a danger we can and should avoid. LD-165 enforces this idea and hopefully will help keep us safe.