Testimony: Opposing Punitive Fines for Distracted Driving (LD 145)


Testimony in Opposition to LD 145: “An Act to Increase the Penalties for Operation of a Motor Vehicle While Using a Handheld Electronic Device or Mobile Telephone”

Senator Chipman, Representative Williams, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Transportation, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as director of policy for Maine Policy Institute. We are a free market think tank, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify in opposition to LD 145.

This bill would significantly raise fines for Mainers ticketed for driving while using an electronic device in situations “including but not limited to…while the vehicle is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic light or a stop sign.”

Current law provides an exemption for drivers who utilize a “hands-free mode” on their device. But, if police find a driver using more than one finger to operate a cell phone—even while stopped in traffic—they may issue a fine. LD 145 would make these penalties extremely steep, even for a first-time offender.

The bill proposes to raise the fine for the first offense of ten-times the current penalty to $500. For the second offense, it proposes to quadruple the current penalty to $1000, and for the third and subsequent offenses, the bill adds an additional penalty of license revocation.

The irony is not lost on us that supposed proponents of civil liberties and criminal justice system reform would support a bill that would give police greater license to accost Maine people on the roads, backed up by punitive fines. What if someone who can barely afford to get to work and back is ticketed $500 and cannot pay it? That person can become trapped in the negative cycle of late fees and summons. Is this what the Mainers barely making ends meet really need from their government?

Clearly, this bill is intended to make roadways safer—there is certainly no doubt that many drivers are unsafely using electronic devices while driving. The question is whether the law itself or the fine is a sufficient deterrent. When making new laws or more stringent penalties, one must remember that all laws are backed by force.

Please deem LD 145 “Ought Not To Pass” and resist these and other efforts to punitively punish Mainers for low-level offenses. Thank you for your time and consideration.