Come September, Maine motorists will discover they’re generally allowed to eat a plate of nachos while driving (as long as it’s not distracting) but can’t pick up the phone to call mom.
Gov. Janet Mills signed An Act to Prohibit the Use of Handheld Devices and Phones While Driving (LD 165) into law last week. The law, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, tightens state rules prohibiting texting while driving that have been in place since 2011.
There’s a lot of gray area in how folks use their phones on the road, so we asked Lt. Bruce Scott of the Maine State Police how the law banning handheld phones while driving applies to a number of everyday driving scenarios.
Below are Scott’s answers, edited for clarity and length. Read the full text of LD 165 here.
Under the new law, I cannot have a phone conversation while holding my phone to my ear for any reason, correct?
Can I answer an incoming phone call on the highway?
You may answer a call as long as you use a hands-free option and don’t have to hold the phone to manipulate it. The new law under Title 29-A section 2121 prohibits you from holding any electronic device not necessary for the operation of the vehicle, unless specifically exempted. The Maine State Police say that any distraction that causes someone to fail to maintain control of their vehicle ( Title 29-A section 2118) is illegal from a previous law.
But I can have a phone conversation if I’m wearing a remote headset, or if my phone is somehow hooked up through my radio (via Bluetooth or USB)?
Correct, as long as you are over 18 and not operating under a permit or an intermediate driver’s license.
Can I text at a stop light?
No, you can’t text at a stop light, stop sign or any other temporary stopping on a public way. Your vehicle must be pulled off from the public way in a safe location where it can safely remain stationary for you to text or manipulate a hands-free device. The prohibition for texting is not new and has been illegal since 2011, per Title 29-A section 2119.
Can I use speak-to-text [‘Hey Siri, text Mom I’ll be right there’] without otherwise handling my phone?
You may use that feature as long as it does not cause you to fail to maintain control of your vehicle.
If my phone is resting in a dashboard mount, can I use the text function then?
No, because you may not text while driving.
Do I need to purchase a dashboard mount if I place my phone in a dashboard cup holder?
You do not need to purchase any particular item to hold your phone or other electronic device. You may not hold it in your hand but the law doesn’t prescribe how it must be mounted if you’re using it for directions. You can have your phone in the cup holder if you choose.
What should I do if I’m using a GPS directions app and have to change my destination?
You can pull over to a safe location, put the vehicle in park and then enter the data.
Are there rules about where in the car I can mount the phone/device if I’m using it for directions or stereo purposes? Does it have to be on or level to the dashboard?
No, you can mount the phone anywhere as long as you don’t obstruct your view of the roadway when mounted.
Can I wear Bluetooth or remote headphones connected to my phone while I’m driving?
How about this: my phone is sitting in a cup holder attached to the dashboard next to my steering wheel. While idling at a red light, I get a notification that I received a text — can I touch the screen to read what the text says?
Still no, because reading a text is a violation under 2119 unless you are pulled off the road.
Same situation, but it’s not a text but a social media notification (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack). Can I touch the notification banner to see what the notification is?
How about this: I’m driving, and my phone is in a cup holder or attached to something mounted on the dashboard. I get a notification that I receive a text message. Can I say to my phone “Hey Siri, read me my new messages?”
If I’m listening to music or a podcast on my vehicle’s stereo system via my phone or device, can I touch the screen to skip to the next track?
Yes, as long as you are over 18 and not operating under a permit or an intermediate driver’s license.
Can I have a phone conversation while I’m driving if my phone is on speaker mode and sitting on the passenger seat next to me?
Yes. This is technically not a Bluetooth function, but if your phone’s speaker is capable enough to facilitate this, then it’s fine.
Can I turn on my hands-free feature while I’m driving?
Yes, and this one’s tricky but important. Per the new law, you may use your hand to activate or deactivate a feature or function of a mobile telephone or handheld electronic device that is in hands-free mode and mounted or affixed to the vehicle in a location that does not interfere with the operator’s view of the road if the feature or function activated requires only a single swipe, tap or push of the operator’s finger.
Can I text or make a phone call if I’m in a private parking lot, like a supermarket or bank?
No, you can’t text while driving anywhere in Maine including a parking lot. You can make a phone call if you follow the rules under 2121, using the hands-free feature.
Can I text or make a phone call if my car is pulled over and idling?
Yes, your car can be on as long as you are in a lawful and safe location and not obstructing traffic in any way.
Can an officer give me a ticket if they see me touching my phone for any reason?
No, not exactly. According to the Maine State Police, they must “observe a violation of law.” From what we can understand, that means touching your phone to activate a hands-free mode (like Bluetooth) is okay, but pretty much any other reason is not.
Say I’m driving and I’m running late, and I want to let someone know. Is pulling over the quickest — or only — method of doing that legally?
Unless you can communicate using Bluetooth technology, probably so. You can make a call while driving as long as it’s with Bluetooth and connected through your vehicle’s stereo or a remote headset so you don’t need to actually dial. You may use one touch or swipe to activate this feature, but you may not pick up the phone and hold it in your hand to do so. To text, you’ve still got to pull over in a safe location.
What if it’s an emergency?
In cases of emergency, drivers are permitted to call “law enforcement or other emergency services personnel.”
What’s the penalty?
Per the Maine State Police, violations will be subject to no less than a $50 fine for the first offense and not less than $250 for a second or subsequent offense in a three-year period.
Are there any plans or programs to distribute car phone mounts or Bluetooth sets to the public or make them more widely available for motorists?
There are no plans to distribute car phone mounts. The cheapest options are available for $5.99 online.