Maine to target texting at wheel

Push becoming campaign issue in state races

By Glenn Adams
Associated Press / September 1, 2010

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AUGUSTA, Maine — 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 to deal with all forms of distracted driving by adding penalties for drivers who cause accidents while distracted, whether by using a cellphone, texting, eating, or some other activity. The law does not specifically outlaw use of any device or activity while driving.

Some lawmakers say it doesn’t go far enough.

Senator Bill Diamond, who sponsored the distracted driving law and is running for reelection, said yesterday that he’s proposing a ban on 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 Web functions while driving.

Diamond’s announcement drew applause from AAA Northern New England. Pat Moody, automobile club spokesman, 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 New Hampshire and Vermont, have enacted texting-while-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 pondering legislation to push all states to enact bans.

Maine passed a law in 2007 that bars anyone under 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 Shawn Moody, an independent gubernatorial candidate.

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 titled, “Ban Texting While Driving in Maine,’’ to help promote the legislation and raise awareness of the issue.

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