Sorry to start on such a negative note, but there are roughly 35,000 car accidents every year in Maine. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Maine defines distracted driving as “operating a motor vehicle while engaging in an activity that is not necessary to the operation of the vehicle and that actually impairs, or would reasonably be expected to impair, the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle.”
Distractions can put you, your passengers, other drivers, and even pedestrians at risk. So it should be every driver's top priority to avoid or minimize them, no matter what it takes.
Distracted Driving Statistics in Maine
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Maine:
In 2017, there were 35,042 car crashes in Maine.
Of these, 3,211 crashes were attributed to distracted driving.
661 of these distracted driving accidents involved electronic device use.
1,215 involved other distractions in the vehicle, such as eating or adjusting the radio.
1,335 were the result of exterior distractions, like looking at something on the side of the road.
The number of distracted driving crashes in Maine exceeded the number of crashes caused by drug or alcohol use and careless, reckless or aggressive driving combined.
Officials at the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety believe that distracted driving is underreported and that it is responsible for as many as 40% of all crashes in this state.
Leading Causes of Driver-Error Accidents in Maine
Based on the number of accidents caused by the seemingly harmless act of becoming distracted while driving, it's easy to see why DWD (Driving While Distracted) is the DWI of our time.
Does Maine Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
Currently, Maine prohibits the following actions while driving:
Reading, writing, or sending text messages
Drivers under the age of 18 and adult drivers who have learner’s permits or intermediate licenses are prohibited from using cell phones, even hands-free
Effective September 19, 2019, the use of handheld phones and devices is illegal for all drivers.
Losing control of your vehicle while engaging in any type of distracted behavior
Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Maine?
The state of Maine excludes the use of GPS and other navigational systems from its texting laws.
Maine Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
* Effective September 19, 2019
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Maine?
Yes. And no. Either way, we don’t recommend it.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, from actions like texting or watching a video to the less obvious distractions of searching for your missing sunglasses or munching on French fries. Anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving presents a hazard that isn't worth the consequences.
So, what happens if a police officer in Maine spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There is no law that specifically says you can't eat while driving in this state. However, there is a law that forbids engaging in distracting behavior that causes you to lose control of your vehicle.
This means that if eating a cheeseburger causes you to drive erratically or to lose focus and commit a moving violation, like running a stop sign, you could be pulled over for that. If that happens, you can expect to get a citation for distracted driving and one for the moving violation you committed while doing so.
Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your cheeseburger indoors or sitting in the parking lot.
What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
Maine uses both primary and secondary enforcement.
When it comes to the laws prohibiting texting while driving or cell phone use by drivers under 18 years old, the state uses primary enforcement. This means even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe you're in total control of your vehicle while doing so, if a police officer sees you texting while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.
When it comes to the state’s general distracted driving law, the state uses secondary enforcement, meaning you can only be cited for non-cell-phone-related distracting behaviors (like eating) if you break another law while doing so.
What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Maine?
Currently, the penalties for a distracted driving citation in Maine include:
For a first violation, a fine of no less than $250
For a second or any further violations, a fine of no less than $500 plus a minimum 30 to 90 day suspension of driving privileges, depending on the number of previous infractions.
For drivers under 18:
For a first violation, a fine of $50
For a second or further violations, a fine of $250
In addition to the fine, violators of state laws can expect to pay court costs and fees. But the added costs don’t stop there. This brings us to our next subject: insurance.
Maine compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Currently, every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But once 2021 rolls around and Arizona's law comes into effect, Montana will be the only state left.
Does Distracted Driving in Maine Increase Insurance Rates?
Because a distracted driving citation goes on your driving record, you can expect your car insurance company to be notified of the violation. How this will affect your rates depends mainly on which insurance company you're using and your overall driving history.
On average, car insurance rates in Maine go up nearly $300 a year following a distracted driving violation. This is more than double the national average.
Plus, if you have a safe driver discount, you can probably kiss that goodbye. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more significant.
In a nutshell: That call or text probably isn’t worth the potential ongoing costs of a citation.
What If I Drive into Another State?
Distracted driving laws vary from state to state, so if you drive into a neighboring state that has different laws, you need to make sure you follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation.
Now that Maine has prohibited the use of handheld cell phones as well as texting, it's not likely you'll be driving into any states that have laws that go beyond what Maine requires. However, distracted driving laws are being updated all the time, so it's important to stay informed and do your research before taking your next long car trip.
What Is Maine Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?
Maine’s recent passage of a hands-free law shows that lawmakers in this state are taking the risks posed by distracted driving very seriously.
And studies to learn more about the prevalence of cell phone use by drivers in this state are being conducted by government officials in order to advise law enforcement officers about how to best go about keeping the roadways safe for all drivers.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting and the Candy Crush until you get home.