Drivers: put down the phone

ELLSWORTH — If you drove down the highway at any point this week you likely saw the signs: “Pick up the phone? Pick up a ticket,” or “Can you hear me now? Hands-free starts Sept. 19.”

The state is trying to get drivers’ attention before this Thursday, when a law banning drivers from holding cell phones will go into effect.

Maine already bans texting while driving, but this new measure prohibits drivers from having a phone in their hand at any time, even while in a construction zone or stopped at a stoplight.

Talking on the phone is still allowed, as is making a phone call — as long as the phone is mounted in such a way that it doesn’t “interfere with the operator’s view of the road.” No holding the phone in your hand or to your ear.

And no looking through contact lists for that phone number. Drivers can only interact with a phone “if the feature or function activated requires only a single swipe, tap or push of the operator’s finger.”

Phones can be used to play music or as a GPS, but only if the phone is affixed to the vehicle in a way that doesn’t interfere with a driver’s vision.

You can tap the phone to change the song, but the same rules for single swiping and visibility apply.

Drivers can use a phone to call 911 when parked.

But that’s not the only law change Mainers will want to be aware of.

According to a press release, Governor Janet Mills had signed 606 bills as of July 3. She allowed another 45 to become law without her signature and vetoed eight.

The laws coming into effect this week include a new gun law, a version of a red flag law that allows police to take residents into protective custody and require them to temporarily surrender their firearms if a judge finds the individuals are a danger to themselves or others.

Also, just in time for back to school, is a law banning vaping on school grounds. The law prohibits the possession of any electronic smoking device, including cigars, pipes, hookah or vape pens.

Do you have young children? You’ll want to pay attention to the changes in child safety seat and seat belt laws.

Beginning this week, most children will be required to ride in rear-facing seats until at least age 2 or until they reach the height or weight limits for the car seat, at which point they can transition to a forward-facing seat with a harness.

The industry trend is to make a five-point harness system that holds a child between 55 and 80 pounds, according to a pamphlet published by state officials on the subject.

For children who are 2 and older and weigh less than 55 pounds, the new law requires that parents and caregivers use the car seat until the maximum height and weight limits have been reached.

But the 55-pound weight limit is only a guide, according to state officials. Per the new law, car seats must be used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.

Also in effect on Thursday is a measure banning “conversion therapy,” making Maine the 17th state to prohibit counselors, therapists and other licensed professionals from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of minors.

There are several laws taking effect this week that may ultimately be tested at the ballot box, depending on whether or not opponents gather enough voter signatures to put them up for a “people’s veto” referendum in March.

That includes a law that eliminates religious or philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccines, a measure that requires Medicaid to cover abortion services and a law that allows those facing terminal illness to seek medical aid in dying.

According to The Portland Press Herald, 530 public laws will go into effect on Thursday, which is about 25 percent more than the number of laws passed in most previous lawmaking sessions.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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