PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A new Maine law that prohibits the use of hand-held phones and other devices while driving is now in effect, and police will be keeping an eye out for violations starting Thursday.
The new law adds restrictions to the state's rules against distracted driving. It states that no one can operate a vehicle "while using, manipulating, talking into or otherwise interacting with a hand-held electronic device or mobile telephone." Fines begin at $50 and climb to $250 for a second offense.
"The troopers will be looking for violations, and this will be one of them," Maine State Police spokesman Stephen McCausland said. "There has been a prohibition on texting for some time now. This prohibits holding your cellphone while you're in the car."
Police agencies in the state have been "proactive in getting the word out and assisting drivers with the change," McCausland said. He said the new rules will mean converting to newer technology that enables a driver to use a phone while keeping both hands on the wheel.
The new rules allow drivers to use mobile phones and devices in hands-free mode. They also state that drivers may use a device to communicate with law enforcement or emergency services if they are facing an immediate threat to their health or wellbeing.
The rules also state that a person who has pulled over to the side of the road and has stopped moving and "can safely remain stationary may use, manipulate, talk into or otherwise interact with a hand-held electronic device or mobile telephone."
That means a driver must pull over to plug an address into a GPS rather than attempting to do so while driving, for example.
Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham issued a statement Wednesday that said distracted driving has reached "epidemic proportions on Maine roads." He cited statistics from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that said more than half of drivers "report having driven while talking on a hand-held cellphone at least once in the past 30 days."
Other bills that go into effect on Thursday include one that requires most children who ride in cars to do so in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 years old. Another law prohibits electronic smoking devices at schools.