Drivers in Maine have about two more months before police start issuing tickets for holding a cellphone while behind the wheel. As anyone who’s had a look around on the roads will tell you, we have some work to do.

According to a 2017 AAA survey, nearly half of the people asked had read a text or email while driving within the last month; one-third had written one or the other.

In just those few moments that your eyes are away from the road, a lot can happen. In five seconds, a car travels the length of a football field – who knows what could pop into your path?

Distracted driving was blamed in nearly 3,200 traffic deaths in 2017, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, about 9 percent of fatalities – and that is likely a low figure, experts say. A state police major told legislators that distracted driving accounts for 40 percent of all vehicle accidents in Maine. It’s one factor in the rising number of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.

In light of these facts, the Legislature last month passed, and Gov. Mills signed, L.D. 165, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. Maine banned texting and driving in 2011, in a bill also sponsored by Diamond, but police found that difficult to enforce. The newer law, which goes into effect Sept. 19, bans while driving the use of hand-held devices such as cellphones. Calls can be made in the case of emergency or while parked, but not at any other time, including when at a red light or stop sign.

That means motorists will have to use either a hands-free headset or dash mount to make a call or stream music, or risk getting a fine – at least $50, and as much as $250 for repeat offenses. With any luck, the new fines will make a difference.

Police face an uphill climb, however, when it comes to distracted driving. The smartphone has redefined multitasking and turned our cars into moving offices, whether you’re overseeing employees or a family of four. People know it’s wrong to drive and text, and they are usually contrite when caught, but for a lot of people using the phone while driving has moved from action to compulsion.

And even if drivers follow the new law, there are a million other distractions; even hands-free talking is dangerous. And since well before the iPhone, police have been warning drivers about eating, applying makeup, and reading while on the road – and those remain concerns.

People spend more time in cars and trucks than ever before. Commutes are longer than ever, and ability and expectation to do things other than driving have never been higher. To make roads safer, that’s got to change.

Drivers should be doing one thing and one thing only – driving. Our laws are starting to recognize that fact. Drivers need to catch up.

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