FARMINGTON — Police are using a new tactic to try and make motor vehicle drivers and the public aware of the dangers of distracted driving.

Drivers whose vehicles were driving by or stopped at the traffic lights at the intersection of Main Street, Farmington Falls Road and the Park and Ride on Tuesday morning probably did not know they were being watched from above.

Farmington police Sgt. Edward Hastings IV sat in the cab of a parked camouflage-colored Freightliner tractor looking down at vehicles to see if drivers were violating the state’s distracted driving laws.

If he saw a driver in violation of the law, which includes texting, scrolling through Facebook or emails, or using a handheld device and being distracted, while in the vehicle on the public way, he alerted an officer in a nearby cruiser.

That officer then went after the offending motorist. The driver would be given either a warning or a ticket, police Chief Jack Peck said Wednesday.

“We are trying to get more voluntary compliance with the distracted driving laws and trying to make the public aware of the dangers of distracted driving,” he said.

It was the first distracted driving detail using the multi-wheeled tractor cab the department acquired through the federal Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office. The truck didn’t cost anything, Peck said. The only cost was police driving to New Jersey and driving it back to Farmington.

The distracted driving details are funded by a grant from the Maine Bureau of Public Safety, Peck said.

In the four-hour detail on Tuesday, there were 10 violations, he said.

There will be other distracted driving enforcement details, not scheduled as of Wednesday.

Hastings was the lead officer in the distracted driving detail on Main Street. He is also the Law Enforcement Support Office coordinator for the department.

Eventually, when the town gets the money, the tractor used for the detail will be converted into a dump truck with a plow. It will be used for plowing and distracted driving details.

A second truck acquired through the military surplus program already has been converted into a dump truck and painted to match Farmington Public Works Department’s fleet. Farmington selectmen approved Peck’s proposal in February to spend $65,000 from the Public Works Equipment Reserve Account to convert a Freightliner 10-wheeler into a plow truck.

Under the state’s distracted driving laws, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while engaged in an activity:

• That is not necessary to the operation of the vehicle.

• That actually impairs or would reasonably be expected to impair the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle.

It is also illegal for a person who has not attained 18 years of age to operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile telephone or hand-held electronic device. This means that a driver of a motor vehicle who is under 18 cannot manipulate, talk into or interact with a mobile telephone or handheld electronic device, according to the state Bureau of Highway Safety.

The state describes the definition of “operate” as driving a motor vehicle on a public way with the motor running, including while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic light or a stop sign or otherwise stationary. “Operate” does not include driving a motor vehicle with or without the motor running when the operator has pulled the motor vehicle over to the side of, or off, a public way and has halted in a location where the motor vehicle can safely remain stationary, according to the state website.

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