Maine Considers Tougher Penalties for Distracted Driving Offenses

Close-up of a teen driver holding a cell phone and reading text messages while she's driving.

Can a $500 fine stop drivers from using cell phones behind the wheel?

The penalties for distracted driving in Maine are not harsh enough to deter the behavior and prevent accidents, according to a Montville legislator who has proposed increasing the consequences for people caught using cell phones behind the wheel.

Maine is one of 24 states that prohibits handheld phone use—or even just holding the device—while driving. It is also among the 48 states that ban texting and driving. Drivers are allowed to use certain phone or electronic device features that can be activated with a single push, tap, or swipe, but only if the device is securely mounted in the vehicle. Holding phones is allowed during emergencies for all drivers except those with provisional licenses.

Encouraged by a local firefighter, State Rep. Stanley Zeigler (D-Montville) filed a bill to increase penalties for violations of Maine's "hands-free" law banning drivers from using/holding handheld cell phones and devices while driving. Since the ban went into effect in 2019, more than 3,000 people have received tickets each year and far more have gotten warnings.

The more severe penalties proposed for violation of the hands-free law would increase the fine for a first offense from $50 to $500 and the fine for a second offense from $250 to $1,000. Under the new proposal, a third offense may result in a revoked driver's license.

Distracted driving statistics in Maine

Assessing the efficacy of new penalties for distracted driving poses a challenge. Safety advocates and law enforcement point out that accidents resulting from distracted driving are often significantly underreported. Drivers don't usually want to admit negligence, and finding evidence of cell phone use during a crash can be time-consuming. However, despite these hurdles, some data offers insight into the impact, or lack thereof, of the law in curbing distracted driving incidents.

Over the last 5 years, the number of distracted driving accidents in Maine has declined slightly. Police say most distracted driving accidents still involve cell phones. For context, here is more state data about distracted driving in Maine:

  • There have been 1,273 injury-causing and 10 fatal distracted driving accidents in Maine since 2019.
  • Police had enough evidence to determine driver distraction involved a cell phone or another type of electronic device in more than 160 traffic accidents. They identified texting while driving as a crash factor 56 times.
  • Almost half of the fatal distracted driving accidents occurred in October. Injury-causing accidents involving inattentive drivers peeked in July and were most common between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
  • In 6 out of 10 fatal distracted driving crashes, the vehicle "went off-road."
  • The most common distracted driving crash configuration was rear-end collision, with almost 700 such accidents reported. The next most frequent type was "went-off-road" followed by intersection accidents.
  • Drivers ages 25-34 caused the most distracted driving accidents in Maine.

No text is worth someone's life

At the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein, we're dedicated to fighting for the rights of those injured by distracted drivers and the prevention of future distracted driving accidents. Our flagship initiative, the Arrive Alive Creative Contest, has encouraged Maine high school seniors for 20 years to raise awareness about inattentive and impaired driving through innovative projects.

If you were injured or a loved one died in a distracted driving accident, contact the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein in Maine for a free case evaluation.

With over 50 years of experience and a track record of success representing more than 25,000 Mainers, we have the knowledge and dedication to fight for the justice you deserve. Our team has secured over $500 million for injured clients in personal injury claims, including those involving car, truck, motorcycle, pedestrian, and bicycle accidents. With seven conveniently located offices across the state, we're here to advocate for you every step of the way.

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