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Officials urge Mainers not to drive while intoxicated or distracted

shenna bellows distracted driving.jpg
Patty Wight
Maine Public
Secretary of State Shenna Bellows at a news conference on April 27, 2022 to urge Mainers to avoid distractions while driving.

Last year, there were 1,400 OUI crashes in Maine - the highest in a decade. And there were roughly 3,500 crashes caused by distracted driving. Combined, those accidents caused an estimated 35 deaths, all of which state officials say could have been avoided. At a press conference in Portland, they urged Mainers not to drive while intoxicated or "intexticated."

Bruce Scott, the troop commander of the traffic safety unit for the Maine State Police, says alcohol and speed account for a large number of traffic crashes in Maine, but distracted driving is also a common factor and is likely under-reported.

"We're very good at being able to come up with facts and data for the other types of driving behaviors," Scott says. "We can prove OUI, whether it's drugs or alcohol. What we can't prove is if someone is distracted without somebody admitting it or us observing it."

And state laws aimed at preventing distracted driving by prohibiting texting while operating a vehicle and requiring hands-free use of phones have not solved the problem, says State Sen. Bill Diamond. He says it comes down to personal responsibility. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows says people need to recognize that phones can be just as addictive and dangerous as drugs and alcohol while driving.

"In the 80s and 90s, people might say, 'oh, I've only had one or two. I'm ok to drive,'" Bellows says. "We learned that that was not true. Nowadays, people think, 'oh, it's just a quick text.'"

But that decision, says Bellows, costs lives. Nationally, distracted driving kills nine people a day. Last year in Maine, it caused 14 deaths.