AUGUSTA — Legislation that would ban the use of handheld devices while driving cleared one of the major hurdles to becoming law on Thursday, when a bipartisan majority of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee voted to recommend the bill’s passage in the House and Senate.
The committee voted 11-1 to endorse the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham.
Maine law already prohibits texting while driving, but other uses of handheld devices are legal. That discrepancy makes enforcement of the anti-texting law nearly impossible.
Diamond’s bill — LD 1089, “An Act To Prohibit the Use of Handheld Phones and Devices While Driving” — bans totally the use of handheld devices, except to communicate with law enforcement or emergency responders. It would allow the use of hands-free devices, and of cellphones set to a hands-free mode.
“Drivers deserve to know that their fellow motorists are paying attention to the road, not to their smartphones,” said Sen. Diamond. “This law will make our roads safer, reducing crashes and saving lives.”
Pat Moody from the American Automobile Association (AAA) testified in favor of the bill, saying that the current spike in highway fatalities is directly attributable to cell phone use. Additionally, use of any handheld device quadruples the chance of a traffic accident. The AAA enthusiastically supports the bill.
Sen. Diamond has been an outspoken advocate against distracted driving. He sponsored two bills, both of which signed into law, banning texting while driving and making distracted driving a moving violation.
The bill now moves to the Senate for an initial vote, followed by votes in the House of Representatives.