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Legislature Closer to Outlawing Hand-Held Devices While Driving

LM Otero
Associated Press
A driver looks at their phone as they make their way through traffic in Dallas in March.

The Legislature moved a step closer to banning the use of mobile phones and hand-held devices while driving on Tuesday.

The House voted 85-60 on a bill that would fine people who use a mobile or smartphone while driving, unless they’re doing so with a hands-free device.

Proponents of the bill say it’s designed to bolster the state’s distracted driving law. Law enforcement officials say current law is difficult to enforce because police have to prove a motorist is texting and not dialing or using a GPS device, which is allowed.

Gorham Democratic Rep. Andrew McLean says distracted driving is a problem on Maine roadways.

“I personally don’t like to make policy based on anecdote. The anecdotes are backed up by data — real data — that show this is a public safety issue,” he said.

According to the Maine State Police, 40 percent of all accidents last year involved distracted driving.

Opponents of the bill say it’s an overreach. Turner Republican Rep. Jeff Timberlake says older or poorer Mainers may not own hands-free devices.

“When Grammy and Grampa call, or when your son or daughter calls, and you don’t know how to operate a Bluetooth or a headset, you should be able to answer the phone without being arrested,” he said.

If the bill becomes law, a motorist would be fined — not arrested — for violating the ban. It would set a first-time offense of $75 and a second-time offense of $150 if it occurred within three years of the first.

The bill passed the Senate 21-14 and it requires additional votes before going to Gov. Paul LePage.