February 19, 2013

Committee pulls plug on proposal to ban handheld cellphone use while driving

10-1 'no' vote by Legislature's Transportation Committee spells all but certain doom for measure

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- A legislative committee voted 10-1 Tuesday against a bill that would ban most motorists from using handheld cellphones.

Members of the Legislature's Transportation Committee gave wide-ranging arguments against the bill, L.D. 68, criticizing exemptions it made for certain classes of drivers and saying that it was an effort to legislate common sense.

"Anything you do while driving, I think, takes away your attention," said Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland. "I don't think there's anything inherently dangerous in talking on a cellphone when you're driving; so having said that, this is a bill I'm not going to support."

The Maine Municipal Association, an advocacy group for cities and towns, opposed the bill on the basis of its exemptions, which included police and corrections officers, firefighters and rescue workers, drivers with commercial licenses, doctors, municipal public works employees, Maine Turnpike Authority and Department of Transportation employees and state contractors.

Rep. Christine Power, D-Naples, also said she had concerns about the exemptions.

Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, said existing distracted-driving laws are enough, and people driving normally should not be targeted simply because they are talking on the phone.

He argued that enacting the law would open up a "Pandora's box" leading to more driver regulation and that "we can't legislate good driving, good behavior and common sense."

Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, was the only committee member to vote for the bill, while two were absent from voting. McLean called the bill indicative of an "evolving idea" of driver safety in Maine and the country.

The strong ought-not-to-pass vote Tuesday means the proposal probably has no chance of passing in the full Legislature. A similar bill, submitted in 2011 by Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, was killed in the Legislature after an ought-not-to-pass vote in committee.

On Tuesday, the committee also recommended against a bill that would require motorcyclists to wear helmets. Both recommendations will be sent to the full Legislature for consideration.

Michael Shepherd -- 620-7015

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