The pandemic brought with it many surprises. One trend that caught many of us off-guard was the increase in dangerous driving and traffic fatalities, despite the fact that fewer drivers were on the road.
As I write this, Maine has already
traffic fatalities this year, up from 29 at this
same time last year. While there are many factors at play in these accidents,
reckless and distracted driving play a part in too many of the accidents that
take someone’s life.
For a long time, we’ve known that operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol was a threat to the safety of everyone who uses our roads.
What we’ve come to learn too well in the past 15 years or so is
that distracted driving is also responsible for much of the property damage and
many of the terrible injuries and deaths on our roadways. According
to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in ten fatal accidents involves distracted driving, and the
number is higher for non-fatal crashes that still result in injuries.
In 2009, I sponsored a bill that created Maine’s distracted driver law, which added additional penalties for drivers who committed a traffic infraction, drove to endanger or were involved in a car accident while driving distracted.
Our thinking at the time was that defining distracted driving and adding these penalties would work to make our roadways significantly safer. Unfortunately, it did not.
It quickly became clear that there was one specific activity many drivers were engaging in that took their attention away from the road: Texting while driving. In 2011, I sponsored a bill that
prohibited texting while driving, but it was difficult for law enforcement to determine when a distracted driver was using their phone for texting or was distracted by their handheld device for other reasons. Drivers pulled over for suspected texting often claimed to be dialing a number to make a call rather than sending a text. Once again, we could see that we had to take additional action.
In 2019, we finally passed a law I sponsored that fully prohibited the use of handheld phones and devices while driving. In the years since we first started addressing distracted driving in Maine, our phones had come to occupy much more of our attention than ever before. Our phones allowed us to send and receive emails, update social media accounts, check the weather, watch TV, do our banking, read the news, and much more – any time, any place. For too many drivers, the distraction proved much more than they could handle, and their inattention was putting Maine lives in danger.
The steps we’ve taken to make our roads safer have been critical, but even with these laws, it’s still every driver’s responsibility to keep their attention on the road while driving. Over the ten-year span that I’ve worked on distracted driving legislation, I have spoken with many survivors of distracted driving accidents, as well as the families and friends of victims who sadly did not survive their encounters with distracted drivers.
Innocent people – adults and
children – are tragically killed and injured every year due to distracted
drivers. When these tragedies occur, the person responsible – the distracted
driver, if they were lucky enough to survive the accident as well – regrets
their actions and wishes they could take it all back. But it’s too late.
Driving a car is one of the most dangerous activities many of us will ever engage in, yet we do it every day without a second thought. Today, I ask you to remember the serious responsibility we all have as drivers to drive safely. It’s important we remind each other – just as we did with the seatbelt law decades ago – to put the phone down and pay attention.
And, as anyone who has
driven with a child knows well, if we teach our children today that driving
hands free is very important, they will remind us tenfold – that way, we all
win, and the next generation is even safer.
As always, I’m here to help however I can. You can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 207-287-1515. You can also sign up for my regular e-newsletter by visiting www.mainesenate.org. <