New Maine Laws Affect Teens, Drivers, Bicyclists, Elders and Employers

Like other driving instructors across Maine, Dwight Hawkins has a new lesson to add to his course this fall: If you’re under 18 and behind the wheel, lose the cell phone.

As of Sept. 20, a new Maine law will prohibit anyone less than 18 years old from driving while using a mobile phone or handheld electronic device. The law sets a $50 fine for the first violation and $250 for second or subsequent offenses.

Scores of laws affecting motorists, businesses, consumers, students and others take effect Sept. 20, which marks the 90th day after June’s adjournment of the 2007 legislative session.

Hawkins, whose Area Driving School Inc. has 10 locations in central Maine, said he’s been teaching young drivers about the dangers of distractions such as eating, fixing hair and typing on laptops. He’s also telling them about the new cell phone restriction.

“Is it being heard? Well, they’re teenagers. They think they’re invincible,” said Hawkins. “The law is wonderful — if we’re going to have enforcement.”

Another far-reaching new law tightens up Maine’s seat belt law.

While many drivers and passengers have gotten into the habit of buckling up, the old law only allowed police to cite a driver or passenger for not strapping in if the driver was stopped for violating another law. The new law allows an officer to cite a driver or passenger 18 or older solely for failing to wear a seat belt. If a child is unbuckled, the driver can be cited.

“It’s going to save lives,” said Carl Hallman of Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. Warnings for not using safety belts will issued until April 1.

Drivers must also pay closer attention to bicyclists. A new law says motor vehicles must give cyclists 3 feet of clearance when passing. It also clarifies that motorists may cross the center line in no-passing zones in order to pass bicyclists, if it’s safe to do so.

The new law also bolsters Maine’s youth bicycle helmet law, which previously had no fines for violations. Now, youths 15 and under who fail to wear helmets can be fined $25 after the second or subsequent offense, but the fine can be waived if it’s shown that a helmet’s purchased.

Borrowers, especially those in the high-rate, high-fee mortgage market, gain new protections under a law whose implementation begins Thursday and will have a fuller impact Jan. 1.

“The new predatory lending laws will not interfere with legitimate lending, but they give the state strong tools to prevent unfair or deceptive mortgage practices,” said Will Lund, director of the state Office of Consumer Credit Regulation.

A separate law gives senior citizens new protections from financial exploitation when transactions are made for them. Banks and credit unions can disclose financial records to the state when they believe an incapacitated or dependent adult is at risk of abuse or exploitation.

A new Council on Financial Literacy will support programs that educate Mainers — especially students who get easy access to credit cards — about money management.

More young Mainers will be protected from losing health insurance. A new law says individual and group health insurance policies must offer to continue coverage for dependent children up to 25 years of age. Eligibility rules, such as being unmarried, apply.

Maine’s family medical leave law expands to cover those who need to care for a sick domestic partner.

A new law intended to reduce risks of exposure to lead poisoning requires landlords to give 30 days’ notice when undertaking repairs or renovations in residential buildings built before 1978 that include one or more units for rent.

State government tightened its ethics rules by requiring that lobbying of executive branch officials be reported separately from lobbying of officials in the legislative branch.