As you have probably seen from electronic signs posted on the roadways during your daily commute for the past few weeks, the new hands-free law in Maine (29-A M.R.S.A. § 2121 (2019)), goes into effect this Thursday, September 19th. This law makes using your cell phone while driving a primary violation, meaning that an officer does not need any other reason to stop you before issuing a traffic ticket. Under this statute, drivers are prohibited from manipulating, using, or holding a cell phone or any other electronic device while driving, with limited exceptions. This includes placing a call, using social media, texting someone, or any other action that causes you to hold or use your phone or that distracts you from safely operating a motor vehicle.
Because there is no warning or grace period once this law immediately and fully goes into effect on Thursday, it is best to familiarize yourself with the behaviors that fall under the law that may result in a traffic ticket, as well as the exceptions that apply. Below are some common questions and answers that should be useful to you when determining what you can and cannot do while driving.
When can an officer stop me and issue a traffic ticket?
An officer can stop you on the roadway and issue a ticket anytime you are caught using or holding your cell phone or another electronic device, with limited exceptions. This means that if you are not actively using the phone, but are still holding it in your hand, you can be pulled over and ticketed. This also includes holding the phone while speaking into it to transcribe a text message and holding your phone up to your ear for any reason.
Additionally, it is illegal to use or hold your phone at any temporary stopping point on a roadway, including stop signs, bus stops, traffic lights, and construction sites. Further, you can still be ticketed if using or holding your phone while driving in a private parking lot, such as a grocery store parking lot.
To use your phone, it must be in a cradle or otherwise attached to your vehicle. After the device is affixed to the phone, you can touch, swipe, or activate a hands-free mode or feature. If you need to use your phone beyond this, you must pull over to a safe location (i.e. parking lot) and stop the vehicle by putting the vehicle in park or turning it off. If you do not want to run the risk of being pulled over, this procedure should be followed before using the device any more than activating hands-free, such as reading, writing and sending a text, looking at social media, or dialing a number.
How must my phone be mounted?
The law does not prescribe how you need to mount your phone. Thus, so long as you are not holding the phone while utilizing a hands-free feature, it should not matter whether you decide to purchase something that will mount your phone to the vehicle or if you decide to keep the phone in your cupholder. If you decide to keep it in your cupholder, however, you cannot pick the phone up out of the cupholder to use it. If you do, this can be grounds for an officer to pull you over.
The phone can be mounted anywhere in the car, so long as it does not obstruct your view of the roadway. That said, even when the phone is mounted, you still cannot text while driving, look at social media, dial a phone number or do anything else that goes beyond a simple touch or swipe or that distracts your view from the road.
What if I need to use my GPS?
You can still use a GPS while driving, so long as you do not manually interact with it or hold it. You must mount or affix the phone to your vehicle but, even then, you can only do a simple push, swipe, or tap to activate or deactivate a hands-free feature or function. Because of this, we recommend you enter the address and begin use of the GPS before you start driving or after you have pulled off the road into a safe, legal location.
Can I still play music on my device?
You can still play music and skip to the next song if using the Bluetooth equipped steering wheel or the phone is mounted. You cannot, however, scrolll through your phone to find a song or hold the phone in your hand to do so.
Can I still use my Bluetooth while driving?
You can still use Bluetooth while driving, so long as you remain in hands-free mode when using it. This means you can answer a phone call or send a text using Bluetooth or another hands-free feature, but cannot hold your phone when doing so or do something that otherwise requires you to physically interact with your phone beyond a simple swipe or touch mentioned earlier.
Can I use my phone while pulled over?
Yes, you can use your phone while pulled over, so long as you are not obstructing traffic and are in an otherwise safe and lawful place. Again, however, this rule does not mean you can use your phone at a stop light. To use your phone, you should be parked some place legal, such as a parking lot, with the car either off or in park.
Are there any exemptions to this law?
In general, you can still use your phone to transcribe a text, make a call, or otherwise utilize your phone, so long as the phone is mounted, not in your hand, and it does not require more than a simple touch to utilize the feature. Also, you can use a speak to text (“Hey Siri”) option if you are not handling your phone when doing so and it does not cause you to fail to maintain your vehicle safely.
Additionally, drivers can still call law enforcement or any other emergency service personnel while on the road to report an emergency or report someone who they believe is breaking the law. This exception does not apply to people driving with a learner’s permit.
Ignition interlock devices and snowplow controls are considered part of the operating equipment and are exempt from this law. Thus, you can still use this while driving, like before.
School bus drivers and commercial truck drivers are exempt if using a device as a part of their job duties and in line with federal law. Further, tractor trailer drivers are also bound to the law, but CB radios are exempt as well, so long as the driver safely maintains control while using them.
Police officers are bound to this law as well, but there is an exception carved out allowing them to use their phones if they are in an emergency situation and their radio is not working properly.
Finally, there is an exception allowing people who use electronic medical devices, such as insulin pumps and heart monitors to continue using these devices while driving.
Are there any additional rules applicable to me if I use a learner’s permit or intermediate license?
Yes, there are. Specifically, anyone under eighteen with an intermediate license and anyone using a learner’s permit is prohibited from using cell phones or electronic devices while driving, even if the phone is equipped with hands-free features.
What are the penalties for violating this law?
Under this law, first-time offenders will be subject to a $50 fine. After, if you are charged with your second or more offense, you will be subject to a $250 fine.
Is there anything else I should know?
This new law does not retract any old laws. Thus, the statute that rendered texting while driving illegal since 2011 is still in effect. Under this statute, texting is punishable by a $325 fine (29-A M.R.S.A. § 2119 (2013)).
Though this law seems complicated, if you put your phone down and only use your phone through a hands-free option or a Bluetooth-equipped vehicle, you should not have any problem with that law as it goes into effect September 19, 2019.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
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