New Maine law bans teens from cell phones while driving

| 7/6/2007

Truckers in Maine soon will have one less thing to worry about while trekking through the state. Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill into law banning the state’s youngest drivers from chatting on the phone while they are behind the wheel.

The new law, previously LD161, prohibits drivers younger than age 18 from using any cell phone, hand-held or “hands free,” or any electronic device that’s not part of a motor vehicle’s operating equipment. It takes effect in September.

Teens can only be pulled over for violating the new rule if they commit another traffic offense. Violators will face at least $50 fines.

Existing Maine law mandates that drivers licensed at age 16 cannot use cell phones while driving for the first six months.

“Kids are kids,” Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach, told the Bangor Daily News. “When you place a distraction in front of them they’re going to act like kids.”

The legislative activity in Maine follows a National Transportation Safety Board report that recommended novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board reported that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. Distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards, the agency reported.

Currently, 13 states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are the only other states that currently ban on all drivers from using hand-held phones. However, similar laws in California and Washington are slated to take effect in 2008.

A bill that still is on the governor’s desk in Maine would help officials better understand the role cell phone use plays in crashes. Sponsored by Rep. Chris Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, the bill – LD576 – would direct state troopers to ask drivers at crash scenes if they were distracted by phone use.

The Department of Public Safety would study the results to determine what, if any, actions need to be taken to make the state’s roadways safer.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor