AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday defeated a bill that would have made it illegal to drive while using a hand-held mobile phone.

The 55-88 vote against LD 185, a measure penned by state Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, followed broad support for the bill in the state Senate earlier this month.

Lawmakers in the House offered a variety of reasons for opposing the measure, including the bill’s steep penalties, which included a $250 fine for a first offense and a $500 fine and 30-day license suspension for the second offense.

Others said Maine law already covers distracted drivers and the state had steep penalties for those who were caught texting while driving.

“But this goes one step further,” said state Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel. “You can be driving perfectly down the highway and the only reason you get pulled over is you have a phone to your ear. You are not swerving, you not speeding, you are not going 20 miles under the speed limit. You are driving perfectly down the road.”

Others said a driver might be doing far more distracting things than chatting on the phone, but those things are not banned under state law.

Advertisement

“What’s next? We are going to have a law saying that your girlfriend or your boyfriend or whatever can’t  sit beside you anymore because that’s distracted driving,” said state Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. “That’s the most distracted driving most of us have ever experienced.”

But those arguing for the bill said distracted driving in Maine was a factor in more than 2,000 collisions and 12 fatalities in 2014, according to Maine State Police.

State Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, said study after study showed that talking on a hand-held phone is a major distraction and a leading cause of highway crashes in the U.S. and Maine.

“The verdict is in: Driving down the road with a hand-held phone is dangerous,” McLean said. “None of us could have predicted this problem when cellphones were first introduced, but we have learned from unfortunate experience.”

Still others said they might support the bill if it didn’t bring such steep fines for first offenders. State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said the fines were such that the poorest Mainers would be paying the heaviest price for picking up their phone while driving.

State Rep. Richard Pickett, R-East Dixfield, a former police officer, said he’s seen any manner of distracted driving and while he was first inclined to vote for the bill, he decided to vote against it.

Advertisement

“I don’t truly believe there is any way for us here in this body to regulate common sense,” Pickett said. “There are many, many things that we do while we are driving a car that are not good common sense.”

Pickett said one example he sees frequently is the person who decides to allow a dog to ride in their lap while driving. “How distracting is that?” Pickett asked.

“I agree that distraction is not anything to laugh about and somebody who has died because of it, it certainly is not a joke,” Pickett said. “However, we have laws on the books right now that take care of distracted driving and I don’t believe we need this particular law here.”

Pickett said a better option was for more people to demonstrate common sense and instill safe driving practices in their children and others.

The measure next will return to the Senate for an additional vote.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.