May 22, 2019
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Bills to ban driving with hand-held cellphones, motorcyclists without helmets fail in committee

AUGUSTA, Maine — Bills that would have outlawed using hand-held cellphones while driving and required motorcyclists to wear helmets on Maine roads encountered stiff opposition Tuesday in the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which voted decidedly against both bills.

“I was hoping they’d go somewhere,” said Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, who sponsored both bills, each of them for at least the second time during her tenure as a lawmaker. “Oh well. Maybe someone else will have better luck with them in the future.”

LD 66, “An Act to Require that Motorcyclists Wear Helmets,” and LD 68, “An Act to Prohibit the Use of a Handheld Mobile Telephone While Operating a Motor Vehicle,” received “ought not to pass” recommendations by committee votes of 9-3-1 and 11-1, respectively.

Both bills repeat numerous past proposals and, like the previous attempts, generated considerable testimony last week.

Representatives from several motorcycle clubs argued that requiring helmets infringes on their personal freedom. Some even argued that because of their design, helmets can increase danger in certain situations.

In testimony about the cellphone law, several witnesses cited data from multiple sources that linked cellphone use while driving to higher probabilities for crashes.

But most lawmakers on the Transportation Committee weren’t convinced.

“Anything you do while you’re driving takes away from your concentration,” said Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland. “I don’t think that talking on a cellphone takes away from that more than anything else. … I think this is going too far.”

Other legislators took issue with the bill because it contained a list of exemptions, ranging from law enforcement officers to doctors. Several other groups asked for the same exemption last week, including representatives from two quasi-municipal water district organizations.

“We’re opening Pandora’s Box with this bill,” said Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel. “If we pass this, there will be continual bills every year that add one more group to be exempted. We can’t legislate good driving, good behavior and common sense.”

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