AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a bill that would drastically increase fines for drivers who handle their phones and other mobile devices while behind the wheel.

Instead of increasing the punishment, lawmakers directed several state agencies to launch an educational campaign to remind drivers that a relatively new state law makes it illegal to handle a cellphone while driving.

“I think everybody is in agreement – this is an issue,” said Sen. Bradley Farrin, R-Norridgewock. “While I support the concept, I still struggle with the fact that we just enacted this legislation last session.”

Handling a cellphone while driving carries a $50 fine for the first offense.

L.D. 145, sponsored by Rep. Stanley Zeigler, D-Montville, would have increased the initial fine for handling a phone while driving from $50 to $500, and for a second violation from $250 to $1,000. A driver’s license would have been revoked after a third offense.

Drivers can face steeper fines if they are involved in an accident while using a cellphone because of a separate distracted driving law that carries a $134 fine. A Maine State Police representative told lawmakers during a previous public hearing that troopers can – and have – cited drivers for both offenses, resulting in a $184 fine.


During a public hearing before the Transportation Committee earlier this month, bill supporters argued that the state’s cellphone law is routinely violated and that higher fines would lead to greater compliance. But opponents, including the Department of Public Safety, argued that higher fines have not been proven to increase compliance and disproportionately impact low-income drivers.

Some committee members said before voting Wednesday that it’s too early to tell whether the hands-free law and its penalties are working, especially when combined with the separate distracted driving penalties.

“This is the first couple of years where they’re all rolled out and working together,” said Rep. Dan Ankeles, D-Brunswick. “We at the very least owe it to the Department of Public Safety to let that process work and to see how those laws are working together in concert before we pass a modification to that law.”

Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, who chairs the committee, said he might support increasing fines in the future, but not yet.

“Considering this is a new law that’s only been in place for a couple of years, some people probably don’t even know it’s a crime to hold a phone while driving in Maine,” Chipman said.

The committee directed staff to send a letter to the Secretary of State’s Office, Department of Public Safety, Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority, telling them to undertake a public education campaign and report back on its progress sometime next year.


Maine banned texting while driving in 2011, but police said it was difficult to enforce, because it applied only to texting and not other activities, like scrolling through social media feeds or looking up directions or a weather report. The texting ban carries an initial fine of $250.

Lawmakers enacted a handsfree law in 2019. That law allows drivers to use electronic devices only with a one-finger tap or swipe and as long as the device is secured to the vehicle by a mount or cradle where it doesn’t impede the driver’s view of the road. A narrow exception exists for emergency calls, except for drivers with provisional licenses.

Maine also has a distracted driving law, which prohibits activity that is not needed to operate the vehicle and that impairs, or is reasonably expected to impair, operation of the vehicle. Those violations carry a $134 fine, as set by the courts.

Last year, distracted driving was listed as a factor in 3,154 crashes, about 300 fewer than the year before, according to MDOT. More than half of those were rear-end collisions or sideswipes. Eleven were fatal and more than 1,100 caused injuries. But it’s unclear how many distracted driving crashes were attributed to using a hand-held device.

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