Westbrook Police Detective Jeff Stackpole helps Mary Gavin get her iPhone’s GPS to appear on her car monitor. “He paired it when I couldn’t, so I will now be legal when driving,” Gavin said. Chance Viles/American Journal

WESTBROOK — A few dozen motorists stopped by the Police Department for tips on hands-free communication while driving Tuesday, two days before a ban on using handheld devices while driving goes into effect.

Police Thursday will begin enforcing the new law, which requires drivers to keep their hands off their phones while in their vehicles or risk getting pulled over and ticketed. The fine will be $50 for the first offense, $250 for the second or more.

“Distracted driving happens each day,” Police Chief Janine Roberts said. “It is enough of a security concern that there was another law drafted for it.”

The department hosted the event to help drivers pair their phone technology to their cars through Bluetooth, set up phone mounts and to answer questions, including about how the new hand-held ban differs from a previous law that outlawed texting while driving but allowed motorists, unlike the new law, to hold their phones to change their GPS location or music selection.

Under the new law, phone use while at a red light or a stop sign is illegal and can result in a fine. In addition, the new law can be paired with the existing texting and driving law, meaning an even larger dent to a motorist’s pocket.

Whether officers will give out tickets right off the bat to offending motorists is at their discretion, Roberts said. Some officers may take an initial offense as a chance to educate the driver, while others may issue a ticket on the first day.

“If we see someone driving down the road with like both hands not paying attention, we may write you that ticket,” Detective Jeff Stackpole said.

“The previous law was a $365 fine and officers don’t like to write that,” Detective Sgt. Tim Gardner said. “Now it is $50 for the first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses, so officers may be more likely to write that ticket.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 3,166 people died as a result of a distracted driving accident in 2017, a large portion of the cases being motorists on their phone.

“We deal with distracted drivers a lot. We get calls from concerned motorists about erratic operation, someone calls thinking the driver is under the influence, and we pull them over only to find out they were on their phone,” Gardner said.

On hand Tuesday were representatives from the Bill Dodge Auto Group and U.S Cellular.

“A misconception is often people think they can pair their phone with any car,” said Connor Harnson of Bill Dodge in Westbrook. “A lot of the cars before 2013 just can’t do it, so we have to find them alternatives to pairing their GPS or Bluetooth to the car itself.”

Silas Jordan of U.S Cellular said there are plenty of mounts for phones so drivers who don’t have built-in GPS monitors in their cars can still view directions without grabbing their phones.

“There are also Bluetooth speakers you can clip to your visor so that you can listen to and answer calls without holding your phone,” Jordan said.

While a driver may need to touch their mounted phone to answer a call, that is permissible by the new law,  Gardner said.

“The single swipe actions are okay. If you tap your phone to answer a call and need to get back to your GPS by pressing the home button, you can do that. What you can’t do is hold your phone and type in a new address, or hop in your car and drive and set a GPS location on the way and change your music while you drive,” he said.

If a phone call is coming in or a text needs to be read, motorists are also encouraged to pull over in a safe area to do so.

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