Here Are 10 Things a Lawyer Says You Can Legally Use Your Phone for While Driving a Car in Maine
This August, lots of people have been talking about cell phone laws here in Maine, especially after deputies with the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Department posed as panhandlers in street medians while checking for texters at the wheel.
In their original statement on Facebook, which has since been edited, the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Department said that "looking at your phone... is a violation." You can read their original unedited statement on the WGME website here. They have edited the post on Facebook to read "looking at your phone to text... is a violation."
Why is that important? Well, texting while driving is illegal, but just looking at your phone shouldn't necessarily get you a ticket.
So... what are the actual laws here in Maine about cell phone use while driving? We found out what the law about texting actually says.
Text messaging is illegal while driving in Maine. According to the law, 29-A M.R.S.A. §2119(1)(C):
Text messaging means reading or manually composing electronic communications, including text messages, instant messages and e-mails, using a portable electronic device. 'Text messaging' does not include using a global positioning or navigation system."
As you can see, the law actually carves out two exceptions to the "no cell phone" rule: using a GPS or navigation system.
Additionally, there is not a hands-free driving law in Maine. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed that in July 2017, according to News Center Maine.
According to Maine lawyer Darrick Banda, "looking at your phone," as the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Department initially stated on Facebook, is not enough to be issued a ticket.
In a comment on Facebook, Banda explained the difference between what the law prohibits and what it doesn't:
"If you are reading emails, texts, instant messages ("electronic communications"), then, yes, that is illegal. If you are using your GPS (e.g. Google Maps, Navigator, etc.); using your music streaming service (e.g. Napster, Spotify, etc.); listening to pre-downloaded .mp3 songs; dialing a call; receiving a call; checking your phone directory for a number; looking at your pictures gallery; checking your credit report; checking your bank account (via an app); using speech-to-text.....literally ANYTHING else that does NOT involve manually composing or reading electronic communications, that is NOT prohibited. I might even argue that watching a video does not fall within the prohibition on 'text messaging.'"
Banda goes on to talk about how people are actually caught and given tickets for cell phone use: "Enforcement of this statute largely depends on the individual ADMITTING to the officer that they were texting or checking their messages. It is virtually impossible for an officer to be able to observe what particular function you are performing with your phone in most circumstances. You do NOT have to say anything to the officer. You do NOT have to show them your phone."
We reached out to the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Department for further comment on their Facebook post and to comment on Banda's claims about the law but have not heard back at this time.
There are other restrictions in Maine law. Drivers under 18 are prohibited from all device use while driving, and there are other rules for commercial drivers.
"Operation of a motor vehicle while distracted" means the operation of a motor vehicle by a person who, while operating the vehicle, is engaged in an activity:(1) That is not necessary to the operation of the vehicle; and(2) That actually impairs, or would reasonably be expected to impair, the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle.
So yes, texting is definitely illegal, but according to defense attorney Banda, there's nothing illegal about "looking" at your phone to see what song is playing, what your Map app says the next turn is, or what time is on your clock.
All of that being said, please be safe while you're driving! Definitely don't text! Ultimately, it's always a good idea to pay attention to the road, think about safety first, and slow it down.