Sometimes, the need to multitask manifests behind the wheel. We see it every day on Maine roads – drivers engaged in tasks that have nothing to do with driving. I represent people all over Maine, so am frequently traveling on the highway. I am appalled at how often I see people looking down at their phones while driving, sometimes faster than 70 mph.
You may see some drivers taking care of personal hygiene, eating and drinking, sending texts and emails, taking phone calls, or programming GPS navigation behind the wheel.
The task of driving requires full visual, manual, and cognitive engagement. Any other task can impair at least one of these components at any given time, which significantly increases the likelihood of a crash.
Many drivers are willing to take this risk – despite being aware of the potentially serious and fatal consequences.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving was a factor in approximately 3,166 traffic fatalities across the United States.
Cellphones and other electronic handheld devices are often the culprit behind these deaths. With the advent of built-in infotainment technology – which is currently unregulated – it’s unlikely we’ll see these numbers decrease any time soon.
Law enforcement cracks down on cellphone use while driving
Lawmakers have been working to reduce the rate of distracted driving crashes, both nationwide and here in Maine.
State lawmakers recently passed a law banning the use of cellphones while driving. Under the new law, drivers aren’t allowed to do as much as pick up or hold a cellphone. First-time offenders could be fined $50 if caught. With additional fees, drivers could pay $85. For any subsequent offenses, drivers could pay up to $325.
Lt. Bruce Scott with the Maine State Police said in an interview with Maine Calling’s Jennifer Rooks:
“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.”
The law took effect on September 19, 2019. Within the first month, Maine law enforcement officers have issued 232 tickets, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Approximately 54 of the drivers who were issued tickets admitted to their violations and agreed to pay fines. On the other hand, 32 drivers opted to contest the tickets in court. The remaining 146 drivers cited have either not agreed to pay the fines or haven’t responded in writing. Drivers have 35 days from the date of the violation to pay a fine or request to appeal the citation.
Analysts estimate that at the current rate of enforcement, police could issue 5,500 tickets (roughly 458 per month) by June 30, 2021. In 2018 alone, roughly 1,600 statewide citations for texting and driving were issued, resulting in more than 1,300 convictions.
Drivers are only allowed one touch or swipe of a cellphone screen behind the wheel – only when cellphones are mounted or fixed in locations that don’t obstruct drivers’ view or cause them to look away from the road. In addition, drivers are allowed (and even encouraged) to use hand-free or Bluetooth technology.
Other New England states that have passed similar laws include New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Injured in a crash with a distracted driving? Take legal action today!
Maine drivers should only be engaged in one task behind the wheel – driving. Anything that deviates from that can result in a serious crash that causes someone else’s injury or death.
While the new law will greatly reduce the use of cellphones behind the wheel, it may not curb other forms of distracted driving.
If you or a loved one was hurt in a crash because another driver wasn’t paying attention, the car accident attorneys at Jabar LaLiberty & Dubord, LLC can launch a thorough investigation. We look into cellphone records, gather evidence from the crash scene and police report, speak to witnesses, and aggressively negotiate with insurance companies.
Contact us online to find out how we can help you.