Maine Distracted Driving Bill Gets Lawmaker Approval

State lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have approved a Maine distracted driving bill that would ban hand-held cell phone use, which would make it one of 15 states to do so.texting

Although Maine already has several laws that prohibit distracted driving, none of those outlaw operating a vehicle while talking on a hand-held cell phone. This measure would change that, with the hope of lowering the risk of Maine car accidents caused by distracted driving.

From an injury law standpoint, it may provide a stronger foundation on which to assert claims of negligence in the event of a crash resulting in injuries.

According to the Portland Press Herald, previous attempts to pass a similar law failed two years ago. As it now stands, minors (under 18) are prohibited from driving while using a hand-held electronic device (see M.R.S. 29-A §2116), but adults are not. Still, 29-A §2119, Maine’s texting-and-driving law, is fairly broad. It prohibits any person from operating a motor vehicle while engaging in text messaging, which it defines as “reading or manually composing  electronic communications, including text messages, instant messages and e-mails, using a portable electronic device.” “Text messaging” does not include using a global positioning or navigation system.

Courts are increasingly holding criminally responsible those who choose to endanger others by texting and driving. For example, in Massachusetts, a jury found an 18-year-old guilty of vehicular homicide because his loss of control resulting in a fatal crash was caused by his texting. As for the civil side, some courts have agreed to hold accountable not just the person who was driving but also individuals who were texting with someone they knew was driving. One such case was in New Jersey, and the New Jersey Court of Appeals recently upheld that verdict.

Although the new measure would result in a moving violation and a fine of $75 for a first-time offense, it could still come into play in civil cases.

The House bill, which passed 85-60, and the sister Senate bill, which passed 21-14, would replace the current texting-while-driving law. It would also make Maine the fourth state in New England to have such a measure. (Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire have other measures, while Massachusetts and Rhode Island are considering them.)

Interestingly, while lawmakers proposed giving law enforcement a special exception on this rule, police testifying before the legislature insisted they wanted no special treatment. The fiscal impact would be a cost of $65,000 a year, but it would generate an estimated $1 million in fine revenues within the first year. It must be signed by the governor before it can become law.

According to the Maine Department of Transportation, there are dozens of distracted driving deaths and hundreds of crashes in the state each year. Liability will be predicated on our Portland car accident lawyers’ ability to show not only that the driver was distracted (which is a breach of the duty of care to operate a vehicle in a reasonably safe manner) but also that this distraction caused the crash that resulted in injuries to the plaintiff. Distracted driving is a form of negligence. We work hard to seek compensation for its many victims.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Legislature passes bill to prohibit use of hand-held phones while driving, June 21, 2017, By Scott Thistle, Portland Press-Herald

More Blog Entries:

Report: 43 Percent of Children Killed in Car Accidents Not Properly Restrained, June 9, 2017, Portland Distracted Driving Accident Attorney