Maine’s New Law Banning the Use of Handheld Phones and Devices While Driving Goes Into Effect on September 19, 2019

In an effort to stem the increase in accidents and fatalities resulting from distracted driving, “An Act to Prohibit the Use of Handheld Phones and Devices While Driving,” PL 2019, c. 486, will go into effect on September 19, 2019. The new law will generally prohibit drivers in Maine from using handheld phones and devices while driving. This expands existing Maine law, which already prohibits texting while driving.

Under the new law, a person is prohibited from “manipulating, talking into or otherwise interacting with a handheld electronic device or mobile telephone” while operating a motor vehicle on a public way. 29-A M.R.S. § 2121. These prohibitions apply even when a vehicle is stopped because of traffic, a red light, or a stop sign. However, a person who has pulled over in a location where the vehicle can safely remain stationary, may use, manipulate, talk into or otherwise interact with a handheld electronic device or mobile telephone.

The law does include some limited exceptions. First, a person, other than a person who is operating with a learner’s permit, may use a mobile telephone or handheld electronic device to communicate with law enforcement or emergency personnel under emergency circumstances. The term “emergency circumstances” means that there is an immediate risk to the health or well-being of any person.

Second, a person who has attained 18 years of age and is not operating with an intermediate license or a learn’s permit may use a cell phone in hands free mode. The operator of a motor vehicle may use a hand to activate or deactivate a feature or function of a mobile telephone or handheld electronic device that is in hands-free mode and mounted or affixed to the vehicle in a location that does not interfere with the operator’s view of the road if the feature or function activated requires only a single swipe, tap or push of the operator’s finger.

Third, certain commercial drivers and school bus drivers may use a mobile phone or electronic handheld device within the scope of their employment and as permitted by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations.

The penalty for violating this new law, which is considered a traffic infraction, is a fine of at least $50 for the first offense and at least $250 for a 2nd or subsequent offense. 29-A M.R.S. § 2121(3).

Maine’s existing law prohibiting text messaging while driving, as amended by the new law, will remain in effect. 29-A M.R.S. § 2119. The existing law, as now amended, provides that a person may not operate a motor vehicle on a public way while engaging in text messaging, including but not limited to when the vehicle is stopped because of traffic, a red light, or a stop sign. However, a person may engage in text messaging while in the operator’s seat of a motor vehicle if the person has pulled the motor vehicle over to the side of, or off, a public way and has halted in a location where the motor vehicle can safely remain stationary. The term “text messaging” means “reading or manually composing electronic communications, including text messages, instant messages and electronic mail, using a handheld electronic device” but does not include using a GPS or navigation system. 29-A M.R.S. § 101(80-B).

The penalty for a first offense of the law prohibiting text messaging while driving is a fine of at least $250. 29-A M.R.S. § 2119(3)(A). The penalty for a 2nd or subsequent offense within 3-years is a fine of at least $500 and a license suspension of thirty (30) days if the person has 2 violations within a 3 year period; sixty (60) days if the person has 3 violations within a 3-year period, and ninety (90) days if the person has 4 or more violations within a 3-year period. 29-A M.R.S. § 2119(3)(B).

This article is for informational and educational purposes, and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult legal counsel to assess the legal issues specific to your case. 

Tyler J. Smith

Tyler J. Smith
Partner

A native of York County, Tyler Smith joined Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion in 2012. Tyler’s practice is devoted to assisting clients in criminal defense and OUI cases, employment disputes, civil litigation, family law, and appellate advocacy. Tyler has obtained favorable results for clients in negotiations, in the courtroom, before administrative agencies, and on appeal.… Read more »