Detective Sgt. Tim Gardner helps Karen Norton of Westbrook pair her phone with her car’s Bluetooth technology at the Westbrook police station on Tuesday. Using a cellphone or other hand-held device will be illegal in Maine starting Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Just 20 minutes into a community event hosted by Westbrook police to help motorists connect their vehicle’s Bluetooth technology to their cellphones, 10 drivers had already gone through the waiting line at the police station off Main Street.

While most of the drivers came seeking help connecting their phones with their vehicles – a pairing that will allow them to have hands-free phone conversations – others simply had questions about how the new hands-free law, which takes effect Thursday, will be enforced.

“So far the demographics of the people we’ve seen have been over the age of 60. These are people who are not that familiar with the technology,” said Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts, who greeted drivers as they pulled into the police station parking lot Tuesday evening.

Beginning Thursday, police will enforce a new law that prohibits drivers from using, manipulating or holding a mobile phone or other hand-held electronic device while operating a motor vehicle.

Roberts said she does not plan to micro-manage enforcement of the law and that each of her officers will have discretion to decide whether a driver should be ticketed. There is a $50 fine for the first offense, with subsequent offenses carrying a $250 penalty.

The law prohibits drivers from holding a phone while driving. Drivers are allowed a single touch, tap or swipe of the phone if, for example, they need to answer an incoming call.

“I think there is a going to be a big learning curve,” said Westbrook police Detective Jeffrey Stackpole, one of the officers helping drivers with the Bluetooth technology – which connects a person’s cellphone, smartphone or computer without wires.

“A good rule of thumb to follow is don’t ever hold the phone in your hand,” Stackpole added. “You shouldn’t be touching or handling the phone.”

Ann Neault and her husband, Eddie Neault, of Westbrook came because they had no idea how to pair their 2016 Nissan Sentra’s Bluetooth with her new cellphone. Neault said she was worried about getting fined because she often uses her phone while in the car. Her husband is a landscaper and frequently needs to use Google Maps to locate properties. He is also an Uber driver.

Ann Neault, who commutes daily from Westbrook to her supervisor’s job at Maine Medical Center in Portland, said she takes calls from co-workers while driving to and from work, but she will no longer have to worry about picking up the phone.

“I’m terrible with technology,” said Neault. “This has been great.”

Silas Jordan, who works for U.S. Cellular, paired her phone with her car’s Bluetooth.

Jordan and representatives from the Bill Dodge Auto Group and Berlin City Honda volunteered their time Tuesday evening to assist police with tech questions and installation issues.

Roberts said 22 drivers participated in Tuesday evening’s event, which was free.

Under the new law, a person who has pulled a motor vehicle to a stop at a safe location off a road or public way may use a cellphone or handheld electronic device.

Maine already bans texting while driving, but police say the law has been hard to enforce. The new handheld law should be easier to enforce, Westbrook police said. Maine now joins 19 other states and the District of Columbia in prohibiting talking, texting or using a handheld device while operating a motor vehicle.

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