Let’s clear up the confusion on texting, driving

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It’s a little late to jeer lawmakers for any serious consideration of a bill that would exempt police, emergency medical personnel and firefighters from the state’s ban on texting while driving.

Our readers have already weighed in, and offered enough jeers to go around.

Beth Ring of Peru wrote: “No one should be driving and texting.” It is impossible, she said, “to be safe driving at a high rate of speed and taking your eyes off the road to do anything. This is asking for trouble.”

She’s right.

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It is.

So, cheers to Transportation Committee members for voting “ought not to pass” on this bill Thursday.

If we exempt police and other emergency workers, with the understanding that they are trained professionals behind the wheel, what’s next? Exempting long-haul truckers? Bus drivers? Delivery men wearing Pullman Brown shorts?

It’s been illegal to text and drive in Maine since September, but people continue to text and it’s creating undue dangers on our roads. Last month, two teenagers were killed in West Paris when the driver was texting and lost control of the car.

Lt. Walter Grzyb, head of the Maine State Police troop in Gray, which is the barracks investigating the West Paris crash, said that texting and driving is “one of the most significant dangers that are out there on the road.”

In fact, he said, texting while driving has become just as serious an issue as drinking while driving. And, he said, “We’ll see what happens; it may be more (serious).”

That’s saying a lot.

Even though the committee on transportation killed the bill, testimony presented at Tuesday’s public hearing demonstrated real confusion and concern about the current wording of Maine law.

In his testimony, Norway Police Chief Robert Federico made the point that current law might prohibit officers from pulling over to the side of the road to text or to use their laptops at an accident scene or traffic stop. His department interprets it that way, as do others.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, disagrees. He thinks current law is clear.

If a police officer, firefighter or other emergency worker “is pulled off the side of the road, they are not driving,” he said. Thus, they are not “texting while driving.”

Here we have two well-respected law enforcement professionals who have read the law and drawn conflicting conclusions, which is enough reason to clear the confusion.

Maybe, instead of going through the legislative process, Attorney General William Schneider might offer an opinion to clarify what “texting while driving” means to police officers and citizen motorists.

It seems to make sense that if you’re not moving, you’re not texting or computing “while driving,” which means you’re abiding by the law.

Let’s clear up the confusion without tinkering with the law.

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On Tuesday, a 51-year-old Wytopitlock man was sentenced to serve 366 days in federal prison for shooting an American bald eagle in November 2009.

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Stephen Voisine was sentenced for shooting the eagle while it was perched in a tree in the Kingman area.

In 1978, bald eagles were listed as endangered or threatened in Maine and across the continental United States in an attempt to allow the population to rebound.

It has rebounded, to the delight of biologists, conservationists, bird watchers and others.

In Maine, the greatest number of bald eagles are found in Hancock and Washington counties, and in Penobscot County where Voisine fractured an eagle’s wing and leg with a high-velocity rifle bullet.

It’s bad enough that Voisine would do such a thing, but his hunting license was revoked in 2008 because of a fish and wildlife violation. He was not permitted to own a gun because of domestic violence convictions.

This guy deserves federal prison.

These magnificent birds, unique to North America, are our national symbol and deserve our respect and protection.

Although removed from the “threatened species list,” bald eagles are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act.

They are not to be shot.

Cheers to IF&W and U.S. Fish and Wildlife investigators, for the investigation and prosecution of Voisine’s attack on what the Eagle Nature Foundation calls “a living symbol of our nation’s strength and freedom.”

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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