Maine Authorities Tackle Distracted Driving

Noting dire consequences when motorists fail to focus behind the wheel, Gov. Paul LePage has vowed legislation and a series of other awareness initiatives intended to put the brakes on distracted driving.  He noted fines are an ineffective solution, and vowed to introduce a measure that would result in license suspension instead.

While he works on introducing a bill in that vein, the Maine State Police have teamed up with trucking firms to launch a public education campaign. The sides of big rigs will be emblazoned with messages such as, “One text or call could wreck it all.” Meanwhile, state troopers will be upping enforcement against distracted driving on the highways.

Our Bangor car accident lawyers know Maine is not among the 12 states with a prohibition on cell phone use, which is unfortunate because numerous studies have indicated that talking on one’s phone – even using a hands-free device – is extremely dangerous. Dialing, texting, reaching for the phone and talking sharply raise the risk of a crash or near-miss – especially for younger drivers. State lawmakers do forbid novice drivers from using cell phones, so that is a start. So too is the ban on text messaging, which is considered a primary offense for which officers can stop a vehicle. However, many say those efforts don’t go far enough.

Indeed, the fine for a first-time driving-while-texting offense is $100. It rises from that point, but that’s assuming one is spotted, stopped and ticketed. Enforcement has been lagging, so effectiveness of the law has been questioned. Last year, state police issued a total of 800 distraction-related tickets to drivers. Included in this figure were citations issued for offenses like failure to maintain control of a vehicle.

LePage said that in addition to increasing penalties for distraction behind the wheel, he plans to introduce a bill banning cell phone use by drivers unless it is a hands-free device. He said that since January 2011, when he was first sworn into office, he has not driven a vehicle – which has given him the unique opportunity to closely observe other motorists. From applying make-up while steering to texting on the highway, he called the level of distraction “amazing.” One trooper noted that during a recent patrol, officers observed a man playing guitar while driving. The governor insisted drivers need to start practicing safer habits.

Prior to taking office, the governor said he used to believe fines were a sufficient means of tackling the problem. He no longer thinks so. He believes the the laws must be stricter.

To offer a scope of the problem, in the last three years in Maine, there have been 8,000 crashes resulting in 41 deaths directly attributed to distracted driving. Officials say 3,000 of those crashes occurred in 2013, accounting for 12 deaths.

The Maine Department of Public Safety, in highlighting the seriousness of the problem, noted that same year, 78 people were killed in traffic due to speeding, and 45 were killed because of the recklessness of drunk drivers.

In addition to the messages located on the sides of trucks, the DOT plans to post notices at visitor centers. State police vowed to patrol intersections, where people tend to wait to text while at a red light. Even this is illegal (though generally more preferable than texting while in motion).

There will also be bold yellow “no texting” signs posted within work zones, where authorities report approximately 500 crashes annually.

The campaign is being funded by a $600,000 federal grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Maine launches effort to curb distracted driving, Aug. 5, 2014, Portland Press Herald

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