Anthony DiBiase of Scarborough, an Uber driver, says roads will be safer if drivers aren’t allowed to use hand-held devices, but pulling over to answer a text message “can cause a hazard of its own.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Even those potentially inconvenienced by the law say they see the value of curbing distracted drivers.

The growing use of hands-free technology in cars may mute widespread opposition to pending legislation that would add Maine to the list of states that prohibit the use of any hand-held device while driving.

A measure to widen the state law that already bans texting while driving will be headed to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk soon after it clears some procedural hurdles in the Legislature. Both the state House and Senate already have backed the bill. LePage’s office hasn’t said whether he will sign it, but he did sign a bill in 2011 that outlawed texting and driving.

Fifteen other states have laws that ban drivers from using hand-held devices, including Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire in New England. Lawmakers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are considering joining that group.

Drivers around Portland said the measure may help decrease some of the distracted driving they say other motorists seem to practice.

Josh DuPaul said he’s a witness to many cases of driving while texting, despite the existing law, when he makes deliveries for RSVP, the Portland beverage company.

“Honestly, I see it a lot,” he said Wednesday. “I’m high up in this (delivery truck) and I see them constantly up and down” with cellphones, he says of other drivers.

If people followed the proposed law, which calls for fines starting at $75 for a first offense and a possible license suspension for a repeat offender, DuPaul said it would probably make the roads safer.

Lindsay Carter of Otisfield works in paint sales and is on the road almost all the time. She said a full ban on cellphone use while driving would probably put her out of a job, but she uses a hands-free device – which Maine’s law would allow. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Anthony DiBiase of Scarborough agrees, but said he has to assess how the law will affect him as an Uber driver. He normally gets text messages alerting him to a paying customer, DiBiase said, and having to pull over to answer a message might cause those fares to go to other drivers who are able to respond quicker.

“It would be more inconvenient,” he said, noting that pulling off to the side of the road can cause a hazard of its own.

“It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” DiBiase said.

The decision to broaden the law to ban any use of a hand-held device, whether to text, make a call, get directions from a GPS device or check email, comes as ticketing for texting while driving has jumped.

According to state officials, police wrote 48 tickets for texting and driving the first year the law went into effect and 866 last year. But even at that increased enforcement level, police believe the law is underreported and difficult to address, in part because drivers spotted by patrol officers can say they were doing something else with their cellphones other than texting. Cellphone records that would prove texting while driving are usually only subpoenaed when there’s a serious or fatal crash and police suspect a driver was texting instead of paying attention to the road.

Lindsay Carter of Otisfield said a full ban on cellphone use while driving would probably put her out of a job, but she uses a hands-free device that allows her to take and make calls while keeping both hands on the wheel.

Carter said about 90 percent of her job in paint sales involves either phone calls or emails and, since she’s on the road almost all the time, not being able to contact people that way would make her work impossible.

Carter said her employer supplies her and other salespeople with their phones and with hands-free devices to make and take calls while driving. She pulls off to the side of the road or waits until she makes a stop to see a customer before checking and responding to emails, she said.

Her company, which she declined to identify, is clear that safety takes precedence, Carter said.

“This is something we talk about every day,” she said.

Louis Shulman of Portland, another Uber driver, said he has his phone set up to route calls through his stereo system, freeing him from having to pick it up.

He said a law outlawing hand-held devices “may do me a favor because a lot of people drive distracted.”

Being on the road all the time has taught him that trying to juggle a cellphone or GPS device while driving is too much.

“I know how dangerous it is and how quickly things can change when you’re driving,” he said.

Lauren Thomas of South Portland said the law might have a side benefit of helping people draw some boundaries around how much technology intrudes on their lives.

“I think I’m OK with it,” she said of the proposed law. “I get a lot of calls when I drive. It would be nice to tell my boss, ‘I can’t take the call right now.’ ”

Edward Murphy can be contacted at:

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