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Sometimes the advancements of technology come at a price. For those of us caught up in the communications era of cellphones, texting has become the new way of reaching out and touching someone. But although this form of chatting is convenient, it is not always safe. People in Maine, as elsewhere, are cutting corners by texting while driving, often with disastrous results. Even if you are not guilty of this habit, you should be aware of what the law says and how it can impact you if you are involved in an accident with someone else who is.

People are always distracted while driving. What started the big movement on abolishing driving while texting?

This nationwide movement was started back in 2009 by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Secretary LaHood launched a national campaign at that time which focused on becoming distracted while driving.

Is it against the law in Maine to text while driving?

Yes. The law passed both the Senate and the House by a unanimous vote in May 2011.

What qualifies as texting?

Texting refers to either reading or manually composing an electronic communication. This could include text messages, emails, instant messages, or using a portable electronic device.

When did the law go into effect?

The law went into effect on September 1, 2011. There was a 90 day waiting period while the current legislative session was allowed to end.

Is there a fine for getting caught?

Yes. First offenders will face a minimum fine of $100. The fine is imposed even if the actions of the driver did not result in a traffic accident. Fines could increase for subsequent violations.

Is a violation considered a traffic violation or as something else?

It is a traffic violation.

Can jail time be imposed?

No, since it is classified as a traffic violation, there is no risk of jail time being issued.

How many states have now banned texting while driving?

Maine is the 33rd state to do so, with others following suit. The goal is to have it banned nationwide.

Is this really that bad of a problem?

When you take into account how many people own cell phones now and how popular texting has become, it shows the increased likelihood that you could become involved in one of these accidents. For instance, in 1999, approximately 30 percent had a cell phone. By 2008, that number had swelled to over 91 percent. In 2002, the number of text messages averaged 1 million per month: by 2008, it had risen to over 110 million per month.

Why has this drawn so much attention lately?

With the number of accidents caused by this action increasing at such a phenomenal rate every year, states had to step in to offer motorists who do not text while driving some protection. It has raised so much awareness that even Oprah continuously acknowledged it on her show by having her guests sign a statement that they would not text while they were driving

I rarely hear about accidents from this so there can’t be that many, right?

Statistics from several Federal agencies shows that nationwide, between 2001 and 2007, there were 16,141 deaths from accidents that resulted from texting while driving. Each year since then, the number of deaths from distracted driving has been more than 6,000 per year and continues to rise as more drivers are using cell phones behind the wheel.

Why do so many drivers text while driving? Why can’t they just wit until they stop somewhere?

Because we are living in a n age of instant communication. Between cell phone calls, texting and emails, there is no gap between making contact with someone else.

Who is the most common group of individuals guilty of texting and driving?

Statistics show that teenagers are at the top of the list of offenders.

I’m a safe driver while I’m texting so it can’t be that dangerous for me, can it?

The problem is not just with you driving while texting, but for others who also do it. Even if you are extremely careful while driving, others might not be.

I have great reactions, so won’t I be okay if I text while I drive?

No. Recent studies have shown that individuals who text while they drive are 23 times more likely to become involved in an accident as those who do not. In fact, when comparing reaction times, studies have shown that texting while driving is considered to be more dangerous than driving under the influence.

My teenager routinely texts while driving and she has not had an accident. Won’t she be okay as long as she is careful?

No. They are still breaking the law. This new plan is part of a cell hone bill called “LD 1439” which was passed back in 2003. This bill prohibits the use of a cell phone by any driver who has either an intermediate driver’s license or a learners permit. The bill is also known as “An Act To Protect Young Drivers and Passengers”.

But if my teenager isn’t driving recklessly on the road, they can’t be pulled over by the police, can they?

Police can still pull over drivers and issue citations for texting even if they do not observe any other violations. This act is called “Primary enforcement.”

What is the name of the bill if I want to read more information on it?

It is included as part of Senate Bill 15, which was signed in June 2009. It is entitled “Failure To Maintain Control Of A Motor Vehicle”. It covers everything pertaining to a driver who is engaged in some type of action that hinders them from being able to control the operation of a vehicle or that is not necessary in order to operate the vehicle.

Does the bill only cover cell phones?

No. The bill specifies any “portable electronic device” that is not a part of the standard operating equipment of a motor vehicle. This includes, but is not limited to cell phones, computers, electronic games, text-messaging devices or any device that sends or receives emails.

Does that also include a global positioning system or any other type of navigation system?

No, those are not covered in the bill.

Where can I find this bill?

You can look on the State of Maine’s website.

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