Starting this month, Maine law enforcement will be cracking down on drivers who fail to keep driving safely their first priority while on the road.
Maine's new Distracted Driver Law, enacted on September 12, stipulates that a drivers' "failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle" as a result of an activity "not necessary to the operation of the vehicle" will now result in a fine of $119 for distracted driving on top of the consequences of the traffic infraction.
According to Lieutenant Christopher Grotton, Director of the Maine State Police Traffic Safety Unit, 10,000 to 15,000 crashes per year occur in Maine as a result of distracted driving.
The Distracted Driver law was passed in an effort to curb the dangerous behavior that leads to accidents, but it does not specifically ban the use of any one device.
"The problem is that there is literally no end to the list of activities that could be distracting," said Grotton.
Grotton added that state troopers have witnessed drivers talking on cell phones, eating, reading the newspaper, fiddling with GPS devices, and watching television, all while driving.
If a trooper witnesses a driver committing a traffic violation such as running a red light, weaving in and out of lanes, or rear-ending another vehicle while distracted, the driver can be fined twice over: once for the traffic violation itself, and again for driving with distractions.
Under the law, drivers cannot be fined simply for using their cell phones or engaging in other activities, as long as their ability to drive is not impaired in any way.
"[Lawmakers] took a conservative approach and have a universal expectation that everyone drive their vehicle safely," said Grotton.
"If we see you talking on your cell phone, that's not enough to cite you for a violation," said Lieutenant Mark Waltz of the Brunswick Police Department.
Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols said he thinks this approach is preferable to banning devices altogether.
"The good thing about this law is that it isn't singling out any device...it's singling out the behavior of the driver," said Nichols.
Given the fact that cell phones have proven themselves useful on the road, particularly to law enforcement, Nichols said he believes a ban of cell phones might actually be detrimental to public safety, and would limit the ability of motorists to report drunk drivers, among other things.
"Cell phones are one of the greatest tools that law enforcement has ever had," said Nichols. "I would never be in favor of any law that banned the use of cell phones behind the wheel. It's just a matter of using it safely and responsibly."
Though the law does not specifically prohibit the use of cell phones, they are a common distraction that can lead to irresponsible driving.
While driving home recently, Grotton said that he followed a vehicle that was speeding and weaving outside of its lane. When Grotton stopped the vehicle, the woman driving admitted to have been talking on her cell phone.
"The speeding is bad," said Grotton, "but what would probably have caused her to lose control was that...she clearly wasn't focused on driving."
According to Waltz, when his department conducted an OUI road block in August, the number of people driving with distractions was significant.
"I was amazed how many people were actually texting as they drove," he said.
Though some distractions, like texting on cell phones, tend to be age specific, drivers of all ages do get distracted.
"Every age group has its distracting behavior behind the wheel," said Nichols.
According to Waltz, as of Wednesday, Brunswick had not yet cited any drivers for infractions of the new law.
In addition, Waltz said that it is not likely that troopers will see an overwhelming number of people breaking the law.
"I don't think we'll probably be writing a lot of these," he said. "Realistically, it's hard to catch people."
According to Grotton, however, the public attention focused on the new law is the first step in the right direction.
"The goal isn't to write tickets," said Grotton. "The goal is to keep folks safe."