BATH, Maine — Lt. Brian Quinn knows all about accidents and distracted drivers.
"There’s been a lot of them where the people said, 'I don’t know what happened,' they have no plausible explanation," he said.
Maine's new hands-free cell phone law is aimed at taking away one reason for those accidents, by stopping drivers from looking away from the road to watch their phones.
And so far, Lt. Quinn says it may be working.
"I’m thinking so, because I’ve noticed … more people have their hands on the steering wheel, because I’ve been looking and was kind of surprised. I didn’t expect that to happen so quickly," he said.
The new law has only been in effect for 11 days, but there was a lot of publicity in advance. Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry says his office has only issued one ticket under the new law so far, and a single warning.
That record is similar to a number of other Maine law enforcement agencies. The Brunswick Police Department reports a single ticket for violating the hands-free law. Maine State Police says it doesn't have records yet for the whole state, but says that it has issued just 12 tickets on the Maine Turnpike in the first days of the law.
"I think there was such an awareness campaign with this law going into effect and people really listened," Sheriff Merry said.
Both Merry and Quinn say they have noticed a lot more drivers with cell phones mounted to the dashboard or windshield with special devices called "cradles." The cradles put the phone in the drivers' field of vision, where they are allowed to hit a single button to answer a call but not allowed to text or perform other tasks. Quinn has a cradle on the dashboard of his cruiser.
But he also warns just having the device is no guarantee a driver will be responsible.
"In the past two months I’ve seen two (drivers) watching a movie," he says.
Some drivers, of course, have not yet gotten the hands-free message.
On Route 1 Monday, Quinn stopped a pickup truck that had been wandering across the lane, even crossing the center line, and he noticed a phone being used. The driver was lucky, however, getting away with a warning, and a pamphlet about the new law.
"Hands free means hands free," Quinn told the driver, advising him to get a dashboard mount for the phone. Then a final piece of advice.
"In the future," he said, "if you have to answer the call, pull over someplace safe and take your call. Have a safe day."
Distracted driving-related stories on NEWSCENTERmaine.com:
- Maine motorists see impact of new hands-free driving law
- How much you'll get fined if caught using phone while driving
- Hefty fine accompanies new hands-free law, at least for now
- Put down the phone: Hands-free driving law now in effect
- New 'hands free' law means no phones while driving
- State police catch distracted drivers using cellphones