A bill that would ban the use of handheld devices by drivers is headed to Gov. Paul LePage for a signature after being passed Thursday by the Senate.

The bill would outlaw the use of handheld electronic devices like smartphones while driving. Supporters say the bill will improve safety on Maine’s roads, where distracted driving is a common but underreported factor in many vehicle collisions.

But there are concerns that LePage will veto the bill, despite support from the Maine State Police and a unanimous recommendation by the Legislature’s transportation committee, said its sponsor, Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. The bill passed both houses in June, but without the two-thirds vote needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

“The big question is, will the governor veto it?” Diamond said in an interview Thursday. “You never can tell, even though his administration was fully involved, it is not a sure deal.”

If LePage signs the measure, it will become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. Lawmakers are expected to reconvene Aug. 2, but it’s unclear when the session will adjourn.

After passage in June, the bill, L.D. 1089, was placed on the appropriations table with dozens of other bills fighting for about $9 million in state funding.

Fines issued to drivers who violate the handheld ban are projected to raise about $1 million a year starting in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the first full year it would be in effect. Roughly $65,000 of that would be appropriated for a full-time administrative clerk and related costs.

A violation of the law would carry a fine of $75 for a first offense and $150 for a repeat offense within three years. It also includes a license suspension provision for repeat offenders. Only hands-free devices, devices mounted to the dashboard and cellphones in hands-free mode would be allowed. Drivers would be permitted to wear a headset, and they could use a handheld device to contact emergency services.

Diamond had sponsored a similar bill that was defeated in the Legislature in 2015.

“This is a huge win for highway safety,” Diamond said in a written statement Thursday. “Motorists and pedestrians alike will be safer when drivers keep their eyes on the road – not their phones. By minimizing distracted driving, we will reduce the number of crashes and save lives.”

Under current Maine law, it is illegal for minors or people with a learner’s permit to use a handheld device while driving, but not for adults. The state made it illegal to text and drive in 2011, but police argue that law is difficult to enforce because drivers are free to use their phones to listen to music, dial a number or follow a GPS app.

State police estimate that distracted driving, including the use of cellphones and devices, is responsible for 40 percent of vehicle collisions in the state, or about 14,400 crashes a year. However, because distracted driving is frequently self-reported, official statistics do not represent the full severity of the problem.

The District of Columbia and 14 states – including Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island – have made it illegal to use a handheld device while driving.

No one testified against the bill during an April public hearing, and even people who commonly use a phone behind the wheel – such as drivers for ride-sharing companies, delivery drivers and salespeople – agree that a ban on handheld devices will help make roads safer.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire