There was the woman weaving over the highway while adjusting her radio. There was a driver reaching for the cigarette that had fallen on the floor whose car veered off the road and rolled over. There was even the University of Maine professor who corrected papers during her commute.

“She offered it to me as if it was a legitimate excuse,” said Trooper Duane Doughty, who patrols the interstate for the Maine State Police. “If you’re driving distracted, you’re the same danger as a drunk driver.”

Police and highway officials Thursday unveiled a new campaign, dubbed “One text or call could wreck it all,” to crack down on distracted driving.

Typically associated with texting or talking on a cellphone, distracted driving can include anything that takes a driver’s attention off the task of driving, said Col. Robert Williams, chief of the state police.

That includes the driver Williams stopped recently who was using one hand to hold her cellphone to her ear and the other to fumble with an item in the passenger’s seat.

“She had no hands on the wheel,” Williams said. “When I stopped to talk to her about it, she was almost appalled I had the audacity to stop her.”


In 2012, more than 3,300 people were killed in crashes that involved distracted drivers nationwide and another 421,000 were injured, said Lauren Stewart, director of the State Bureau of Highway Safety. In Maine last year, there were 3,111 crashes involving distracted driving and 12 fatal crashes.

“Distraction occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel or your mind off your primary task, which is driving safely,” Stewart said. “Any non-driving activity increases your risk of crashing. Distracted driving kills.”

The four-year campaign against distracted driving will include public service announcements, signs with safety messages and in-school programs, Stewart said.

Williams said state police will step up their patrols, including the use of non-traditional methods, such as using higher profile unmarked vehicles to allow a view of drivers inside their vehicles. Police are even partnering with companies to ride in commercial trucks. Troopers will also patrol near schools and sporting events.

Williams said police recently conducted a targeted patrol using troopers on an overpass on the interstate. He said the number of distracted drivers was chilling. Police simply could not keep up.

“For every one we stopped there were four or five we couldn’t stop,” Williams said.


Thursday’s news conference included a portable distracted driving simulator aimed at safely teaching the dangers of losing focus while driving. Kayleigh Oberg and Amber Raymond, both 14-year-old freshmen at Winthrop High School, each took a turn in the simulator. Both repeatedly hit something, or someone, and attracted the attention of digital police.

Raymond said she has ridden with someone who has texted while driving. “It always gets me nervous,” she said. “You’re putting yourself in jeopardy and people around you. You could die.”

Oberg was already convinced of the perils of distracted driving, but driving while distracted was much more difficult than even she imagined. “I’m not really familiar with all the street signs,” she said. “Adding a cellphone on the side is really hard.”

Most drivers, when they see a police cruiser parked beside the road, instinctively slow down a bit, but Doughty said it is not uncommon for drivers talking on a cellphone to speed past his marked cruiser without even noticing he’s there. The drivers typically are clueless that they had passed a trooper, or how fast they were going when they did. When police get a report of a car swerving or changing speeds, Doughty said it is assumed the driver is either drunk or distracted. He recently stopped a truck that was swerving so erratically that it nearly forced several cars off the road. Doughty thought perhaps the driver had fallen asleep.

“He was eating and trying to pick up a bottle off the floor,” Doughty said. “He was driving as bad as any drunk driver I’ve ever seen.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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