Maine’s new Hands Free Law

Every week, Colby Director of Security Robert Williams writes about a security issue that may affect the student population. 

On Sept. 19, 2019 Maine became the 19th state to ban the use of all handheld electronic devices and portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.  What does this mean? What about your GPS? What if you have an emergency call to make? Let’s breakdown the law so it is easier to understand: 

A “handheld electronic device” is defined as any device that is not part of the operating equipment of the motor vehicle.  If you don’t need it to drive your car, you can’t hold it in your hand or use it while driving.

The law doesn’t completely prohibit the use of handheld or portable electronic devices, even though it severely limits how you can use them.  In order to use a handheld or portable electronic device, it must be affixed or mounted to the vehicle. It cannot be in your pocket, on the seat, or in a cup holder. .  Then, in order to use it, the action to activate or deactivate it must be accomplished by a single tap, swipe, or push of a button. You can push a button to answer the phone, end the call, change to a different song, or start directions on a GPS.  Any activation that requires more than a single tap, swipe or push of a button is not allowed.  

So you couldn’t manually use your address book, search for a specific song or type an address into your GPS.  It must be a single touch of the device. If you want to do something that requires more than a single touch, you need to pull over to a safe, lawful location, stop your vehicle and then perform the task.

You can use voice commands and Bluetooth to operate your cell phone.  If your device reads texts to you out loud and uses a voice-to-text feature to compose a text that is allowable under the new law.  As long as you can safely control your vehicle while doing so.   

You cannot hold your phone to your ear to answer it or listen to it.  You must be completely hands free while using your phone. Ear pieces are permitted. 

Manually texting is not allowed.  Text messaging must be performed using voice-activated software while you are operating your car.  This includes being stopped in traffic for any reason, such as at a stop light, for a school bus, or in a construction zone.  Operating a motor vehicle includes anytime you are on a street, road, highway, etc. regardless of whether you are moving. The only exception is if you are legally pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.    

If you are going to use your GPS and it is not capable of using voice commands, you must either type in the address in advance or pull over in a safe location and type it in.  There is not a GPS exception to the law. 

If you are under the age of 18 or have an intermediate license or a learner’s permit you cannot operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile telephone or handheld device.  Even within the restriction stated above. 

In an emergency you are permitted to call “law enforcement or other emergency services personnel.”

Unlike some new laws, there is no grace period or warning period for violating the hands free law.  The first offence is a base fine of $50 but with judicial fees the total is $85. A second or subsequent offence is $250 plus judicial fees. 

The entire purpose of the law is so you keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. 

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