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Maine Senate Approves Bill Banning Handheld Cellphones While Driving

AUGUSTA, Maine - By a vote of 24 to 10, the Maine Senate has given initial support to a bill that would ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving.

Supporters say distracted driving has surpassed drunk driving as the major public safety hazard on roads. But opponents argue that existing laws already allow law enforcement to penalize distracted drivers.

Last year, more than 2,000 collisions in Maine were the result of distracted driving, and most of them involved cell phones, says Republican Sen. Roger Katz, of Augusta. Twelve people died.

Katz says, given those statistics and the risks of using cell phones while operating a motor vehicle, it's time to crack down on the problem.

"There have been hundreds of studies, and what they show is that when you're driving and using your handheld cell phone, you are driving with the equivalent of .08 alcohol in your system," Katz said. "It's just like driving drunk, in terms of your ability to concentrate on what's happening in the road."

Supporters say Maine should follow the lead of 14 other states that already ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving.

But Republican Sen. Eric Brakey, of Auburn, says the bill goes too far. "We're creating a situation where, if a police officer sees someone in the moment that they are actually in control of their vehicle, now there is justification to pull them over - when they're in control of their vehicle."

The bill does allow for hands-free cell phone use. It faces further consideration in both the House and Senate.