SACO, Maine — Maine State Police are catching drivers breaking a variety of laws behind the wheel without drivers noticing troopers' presence.
Troopers in the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit sit in the cab of a tractor-trailer for enforcement details: catching drivers using cellphones behind the wheel, making illegal U-turns, and breaking a variety of other traffic laws.
During the week of July 14-20, the CVEU is performing enforcement details as part of Operation Safe Driver, a nationwide initiative by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance to keep truckers and the drivers around them safe.
Thursday, troopers patrolled the area of the Maine Turnpike between Scarborough and Biddeford, emphasizing enforcement on cellphone use behind the wheel.
"If you're doing something illegal in the state of Maine, you run the risk of running into a trooper," said Lt. Aaron Hayden. "There are a lot of accidents out there that we come across and we investigate, that the State Police investigate that for all intents and purposes didn't need to happen, but because of a distraction they did, and now somebody's injured."
"People are using their phones all the time, not watching the road," said Corporal Chris Rogers with the CVEU.
Rogers said these drivers are endangering others, particularly, large commercial vehicles like trucks, which can cause major crashes affecting other drivers, too.
"An 80,000 or 100,0000 pound truck can't stop as quick as a car can," said Cpl. Rogers. "The outcomes are tragic, or have the potential to be."
The penalties for truck drivers caught using a cellphone are steeper than for typical drivers due to federal laws. Truckers caught using a phone behind the wheel pay a $325 fine for their first offense, and $625 for their second.
On Tuesday, police found 22 violations in a four-hour span, between the Biddeford and Scarborough exits on the turnpike.
On that same stretch Thursday, they found 14 violations in just a two-hour span, four of which involved passenger cars.
They plan to do more education as part of the enforcement details as the hands-free law enactment in September draws closer.