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What You're Allowed To Do Under Maine's New Distracted Driving Law (Spoiler: Not Much)

Damian Dovarganes
Associated Press
In this Dec. 14, 2011 file photo, a driver uses a cellphone while driving in Los Angeles.

Starting Thursday, a new law goes into effect in Maine that bans the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, and strictly limits the use of other devices while driving.

Phones will have to be mounted or fixed. You could be fined just for being seen holding a phone while behind the wheel, and the law limits touch to a single swipe.

Maine Calling’s Jennifer Rooks spoke with Lt. Bruce Scott with the Maine State Police Traffic Safety Unit about what to expect come Thursday.

Scott: In no circumstance will you be able to travel with any electronic hand-held device, including the cellphone. So you’re going to have to make sure you park it somewhere before you start to drive. Put it down, mount it, affix it somewhere and then begin your trip.

Rooks: Even if I am sitting in the parking lot and punch something into my GPS, I can’t drive with my left hand and hold it in my right hand?

That’s correct, you can go ahead and enter that information into your GPS, and then once you start driving, you can’t touch that device again.

So do you need to put it in a mount? In your cup holder?

If you’re talking about a cellphone, and you want to have that advantage of being able to touch it, there’s one tap, touch or swipe allowed in the statute. That’s only if it’s mounted or affixed. So if it’s not mounted or affixed, if it’s just sitting in your lap or in the seat beside you, then you will not be able to touch it at all.

OK, so come Thursday when this law goes into effect, what are law enforcement officers around the state of Maine going to do? Are they going to be issuing warnings?

Probably not. We’re here to make sure that the word gets spread and that everybody understands the law. I know that there’s been some discussion on gradually implementing this type of law or statute. We give discretion to police officers to decide the best approach. So we want to get ahead of it and participate in events like this. We’ve been plugging it on our social media, we’ve been talking about it for months, and we think that Thursday is the time for us to start taking enforcement action.

I understand that this law even applies if you’re stopped at a stoplight.

That’s correct. We still expect you to be in control of the vehicle. And there’s many examples where people that are stopped become distracted and are no longer stopped. And I give you an example where I actually saw a crash occur right beside me. When I was in my personal vehicle about two years ago stopped at a light, there was a female sitting in a car texting beside me. I pointed out to my wife that this person is texting, I hope she’s paying attention. The left turning lane light turns green. Everybody in the left lane starts to go. She’s in the right lane but sees out of her peripheral vision traffic’s moving and she lets off the brake, steps on the gas and slams into the back of a truck. And so this would be a great example of even though you’re stopped, and it sounds like it might be OK and safe, it’s not. We expect you to control that vehicle. Anything could happen during that time. And you need to be prepared to react and not be engaged in a text.

For the full episode of Maine Calling, click here. This conversation has been edited for clarity.