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New bill aims to sharply increase fines for distracted driving in Maine

The bill would increase the penalty for using a handheld device while driving from $50 to $500 for the first offense, and $250 to $1000 for the second offense.

MAINE, USA — Maine lawmakers will consider a bill that aims to significantly increase the penalty for using a handheld electronic device, like a cell phone, while driving. 

Under the proposed bill submitted by Rep. Stanley Zeigler, D-Montville, the penalty for distracted driving would increase from $50 for a first offense, to $500. It would also increase the penalty for a second offense from $250 to $1000. 

Zeigler declined to comment on the proposed bill, but many drivers say they're in support of it.

"I'm an ex-firefighter, so I'm all for it," Mark McKeen said. "I've seen all of the stuff that happens when you text." 

"I think you should increase it, because lives matter, not a phone," Tammy Parker said. 

According to Maine Department of Transportation crash data, in 2022, there were 3157 crashes with distracted driving listed as a factor. 

"It's gotten to the point where everywhere you look, you can see somebody driving distracted," Pat Moody, a spokesperson with AAA Northern New England, said.

Moody said AAA does not support or oppose the proposed bill at this time but has been working for years to reduce the number of drivers using phones while behind the wheel. 

"The average driver wouldn't pick up a drink, drinking a beer or glass of wine as they're driving down the road. But they don't think twice about sending that text," Moody said. 

Not all are in support of the proposed bill, however. Organizations like the Maine Policy Institute believe the increased fines go too far.

"I think it creates more problems than it solves. Because if a low-income Mainer gets slapped with a $500 or $1000 fine that they owe the state of Maine, I mean, you're talking about really putting them back," Jacob Posik, director of communications with the Maine Policy Institute, said. "I really hope lawmakers shy away from this and come up with an alternative, or look at education and awareness because this kind of fine is way overboard." 

The Legislature's Transportation Committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the bill on Tuesday afternoon, but it was canceled due to weather.

The public hearing will now be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, and a committee work session is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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