I believe that no one should be using a cellphone while driving.
AUGUSTA -- Some teenagers are questioning the fairness of a plan to prohibit drivers under 18 from using cell phones while they're behind the wheel.
But lawmakers say the plan makes sense because new drivers should concentrate on honing their road skills rather than talking on the phone.
Lawmakers will vote on the proposal soon, now that the Legislature's Transportation Committee has unanimously endorsed it.
A separate bill making it illegal for Mainers of all ages to use hand-held cell phones while driving seems headed for defeat in the days ahead because the Transportation Committee has voted 11-2 against it.
So the focus will be on under-18 drivers.
The bill that has the committee's support would prohibit minors from using any phone, hand-held or hands-free, as well as any "hand-held electronic device" for anything other than music.
So all phone calls involving drivers under 18 would be illegal, but catching tunes on an iPod or a similar device would remain legal. Violators would be fined at least $50 for the first offense and at least $250 for subsequent offenses.
While some teenagers support limiting cell-phone use by drivers to reduce accidents, they argue that an age ban is discriminatory.
Preventing drivers from using cell phones is "a good way to keep people safer," said Aaron Watson, 16, of Phippsburg, who has his driver's license. "I see the point in that," but he said any prohibition should be across the board, instead of targeting one age group, he said.
Others question the need for any ban, arguing in some cases that young drivers, far from posing a greater risk than adults, sometimes are more alert and attentive behind the wheel than older drivers.
"I know teens that drive a lot better than adults," said Nate Libby, 16, of Brunswick, who does not have his license.
"I think it's a load of crap" to single out younger drivers, he said. "Cell phones have become pretty much a part of life for teens."
Under existing law, 16- and 17-year-olds initially receive a so-called "intermediate license" that bans cell-phone use and imposes other restrictions for six months. If they get through that probationary period without any violations, they then get a license that allows them to use a phone while driving, just like everyone else in Maine.
The bill backed by the Transportation Committee would extend that existing six-month ban for young drivers until their 18th birthday. That means, for example, that a teenager who gets a license at 16 would have to wait two years -- not the current six months -- before using a phone behind the wheel.
"This is a step in the right direction," said Democratic Rep. George Hogan of Old Orchard Beach, the sponsor of the under-18 bill. "Kids are kids, and they have an affinity to do impulsive things," Hogan said, so they should not be distracted by phone calls while driving.
Republican Rep. Richard Cebra of Naples, a Transportation Committee member who voted for Hogan's under-18 ban but against the broader ban, said young drivers "need to be concentrating on getting a feel for the road." He said more experienced adult drivers should be free to "act responsibly" and use their judgment. In any case, Cebra said, an all-ages ban on hand-held phones is not needed because hands-free models are ubiquitous, and even many hand-held phones have a speaker option that allows the user to talk without holding the phone.
Attempts to curtail phone use by drivers have been kicking around in the Legislature for years, according to Republican Rep. Robert Berube of Lisbon, who does not expect the Legislature to pass his bill barring drivers of all ages from using hand-held phones.
Berube's bill would have exempted emergency workers, physicians, commercial truck drivers and government transportation workers from the ban, but that wasn't enough to win over the Transportation Committee.
Opponents of the more sweeping ban say the state lacks hard data to substantiate claims that cell-phone users cause accidents.
A third bill in the Legislature, which has the support of most Transportation Committee members, orders the state Department of Public Safety to analyze data about the role cell phones and other distractions play in accidents. That bill, which is awaiting action in the full Legislature, instructs the department to propose interim safety measures to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2009, and make final recommendations by Jan. 15, 2010.
Maine State Police, whose accident forms are used by other police departments, already are upgrading those forms to include information about specific distractions and their role in motor-vehicle accidents.
California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have made it illegal for all drivers to use hand-held phones, while some other states have imposed more limited restrictions, such as young-driver phone bans, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.