Proposal would restrict cell phones while driving

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AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Legislature has repeatedly rejected attempts to ban motorists from talking on cell phones, but the issue isn’t going away: At least seven Maine legislators have filed bills to ban or restrict the use of cell phones.

The sponsors of the Maine bills say cell phone users are endangering themselves and others by the distraction of chatting while driving.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Rep. Deborah Simpson, D-Auburn, who has put in a bill requiring motorists to use hands-free cell phones.

Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, may ask the Legislature to go even further by making it illegal for motorists to use any cell phone, hand-held and hands-free.

Other pending bills would prohibit minors and other newly licensed drivers from using cell phones. State law currently prohibits drivers under 18 from talking on cell phones in the six months after they receive their license.

Critics of the proposals say the restrictions represent a slippery slope. If lawmakers ban cell phones, then they’ll be obligated to tackle other distractions like eating or applying makeup while driving, they said.

Gov. John Baldacci has not taken a position on the bills, but spokeswoman Crystal Canney said in a written statement Tuesday that Baldacci “has not supported legislative efforts to regulate cell phones” in the past.

The governor recognizes that cell phones “can be a contributing factor to driver distraction” and he’s reviewing the bills, Canney said. “He urges people to become educated about the potential hazards,” she added.

California, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have banned hand-held phone use by drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other states, it said, have imposed more limited restrictions, such as banning cell-phone use by young drivers or school bus operators.

Kevin Cloutier, a real estate broker who uses a hands-free phone, understands why some Maine lawmakers want to restrict the practice of simultaneously talking on the phone and driving.

“As you drive around you can see there are lots of people weaving in and out of the lane, they’ve got the handset in their hand and they’re either driving too slow or too fast,” he said. “They’re not focusing on driving. They’re actually focusing on the phone call.”

Jennifer Murray says she would rather not talk on the phone while driving, but as a social worker and a sociology student at the University of Southern Maine, she feels the need to put commuting time to work.

Still, she would tolerate restrictions, even if it meant not making calls in the car. “I wouldn’t probably be thrilled, but it’s an issue of improving public safety so I would go along with it,” she said.



Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-01-17-07 1031EST

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