Both houses of the Legislature missed a chance last week to make our roads safer by outlawing cellphone use by drivers.

The bill, L.D. 68, was flawed, but could have been fixed with amendments. It exempted too many categories of drivers, and it allowed the use of hands-free devices, which study after study shows are just as distracting as hand-held models.

Instead of trying to fix the bill, however, lawmakers voted it down, leaving the people on Maine’s roads at risk.

This was not one of the bills that divided Democrats and Republicans. It was a bipartisan failure to address a serious public safety problem.

It’s no longer news that driving while distracted is a hazard.

A 2006 study by University of Utah researchers found that drivers talking on cellphones while operating a driving simulator were no better drivers than those who were legally drunk.

The study also showed that teen drivers talking on cellphones had the reaction time of senior citizens, without the advantage of the older drivers’ experience.

Findings such as this led the National Transportation Safety Board to recommend that all states outlaw cellphone use by drivers except in emergencies.

Maine outlawed texting while driving and has a distracted-driving law that tacks on penalties if a driver commits a moving violation or gets in an accident while talking on a cellphone, but it needs a more proactive approach.

Outlawing cellphone use by drivers would have sent the right message. Unfortunately, the Legislature didn’t deliver.

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