Mainers live in a world dominated by cell phones use. Cell phones enable us to make plans and appointments, transact business, and reach friends and family while on the go. Given the fast-paced lives most of us lead the temptation to save time and make a call while driving can be irresistible. However, cell phone use on Maine roadways is always unsafe, even when using a hands-free device.
The hazard posed by even hands-free cell phone use while driving is demonstrated by a 2004 Virginia highway accident. A bus carrying students on a trip to Mt. Vernon struck a bridge, injuring 11 students and seriously injuring 1. The bridge which was historic had a clearance of 10 ft. 2 in. over the right lane and 13 ft. 4 in. over the left lane. The bus driver, who was on a 12 minute cell phone call at the time using a hands-free device, missed the low clearance warning signs and failed to move the 12 ft. bus into the left lane.
This accident should serve as a warning shot over the bow to Maine residents about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. While fortunately no one was killed that time, there will unfortunately be a next time. At the moment, seven states, D.C., and the Virgin Islands prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving for everyone. Eighteen states and D.C. ban bus drivers from using cell phones while driving, and 28 states and D.C. have passed restrictions on minors using cell phones while driving. (http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html).
Here in Maine, we have a general law against “distracted driving” which provides up to a $500 fine for those deemed to have been driving distracted when stopped for another offense or at the scene of an accident by law enforcement. (M.R.S.A. 29-A §2118) http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/29-a/title29-Asec2118.html. Additionally, Maine bans the use of cell phones completely by minors while driving.(M.R.S.A. 29-A §2116) http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/29-a/title29-Asec2116.html. These laws are a good start, but more is needed. We need to ban cell phone use by bus drivers, and allow law enforcement officers to stop distracted drivers before they cause an accident or commit another offense, not after.
If you or a family member has been injured as a result of distracted driving or by a minor using an electronic device you may be entitled to compensation.
(Alex Smeaton for Briggs & Wholey, LLC/ Copyright 2010, Briggs & Wholey, LLC)