STATE HOUSE

September 1, 2010

Texting drivers beware

Tougher laws likely to be pursued

BY GLENN ADAMS, Associated Press

AUGUSTA -- A proposal to ban text messaging while driving is emerging as a likely issue before the next Maine Legislature.

Lawmakers passed a measure last year that attempted to deal with all forms of distracted driving by adding penalties for drivers who cause accidents while distracted, whether by using a cell phone, texting, eating or some other activity. The law does not specifically outlaw use of any device or activity while driving.

Some lawmakers -- and at least three candidates for governor -- say it doesn't go far enough.

Sen. Bill Diamond, who sponsored the distracted driving law and is running for re-election, said Tuesday he's proposing a ban for texting while driving. The Windham Democrat said evidence continues to grow that as mobile phone technology expands, more and more people are texting and taking advantage of other mobile Internet technologies while driving.

Diamond's announcement drew applause from AAA Northern New England. The automobile club's Pat Moody called texting while driving "inherently dangerous" and labeled Diamond's proposal an "important traffic safety measure."

The idea drew support from at least three candidates for governor: Democrat Libby Mitchell, who called it "a good plan," and independents Eliot Cutler and Kevin Scott.

Other states, including neighboring New Hampshire and Vermont, have enacted texting-driving bans, and a Massachusetts law becomes effective in October. A number of other states and municipalities across the nation have enacted or are considering outlawing texting while driving, and Congress is considering legislation to push all states to ban texting by drivers.

Maine passed a law in 2007 that bars anyone under the age of 18 from using a mobile telephone while operating a motor vehicle. That, combined with the state's distracted driving law, should be sufficient to keep motorists from texting, said independent gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody. He said adding "layer upon layer" of laws only makes enforcement more difficult.

The other candidate, Republican Paul LePage, did not immediately respond to a phone inquiry about his stand.

Diamond, who as a former secretary of state was in charge of Maine motor vehicle laws, said he's launched a Facebook page entitled "Ban Texting While Driving in Maine" to help promote the legislation and raise awareness of the issue.

 

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