Gov. Gina Raimondo has signed legislation introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown) that outlaws the use of any non-hands-free personal wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel or in emergency situations. The new law goes into effect June 1, 2018.
Those caught violating the provisions of the legislation (2017-S 0175A, 2017-H 5182) will be subject to a fine of no more than $100. That fine can be suspended for a first-time violator who provides proof of acquisition of a hands-free accessory subsequent to the violation and prior to the imposition of the fine.
“Distracted driving is extremely dangerous, claiming 3,477 lives in 2015 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” said Senator Sosnowski, who has submitted the legislation for the past four years. “And it’s not just texting; talking on the phone while having one hand off of the wheel is equally distracting. Many of us have grown accustomed to using mobile devices in almost every aspect of our lives, including in our cars and trucks. This is especially true for our younger population, which grew up with this kind of technology embedded in their daily lives. It’s important not to forget that every time we step into a vehicle, we are taking our lives and the lives of others into our own hands.”
Rhode Island joins three other New England states in banning hand-held mobile phones for driver: Connecticut, which has had a ban since 2005, Vermont, which has had a ban since 2014, and New Hampshire, which has banned hand-held phone use for drivers since 2015. Massachusetts leaves the question up to local jurisdictions.
“According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, 10 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to be ‘distracted’ at the time of the crash,” said Representative Fogarty. “In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.”
During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.
“With each change in technology, it becomes our duty as lawmakers and protectors of our constituency to ensure that we make the appropriate adjustments to our statutes,” Senator Sosnowski added. “This is primarily about safety. There are already so many dangers and distractions on the road – the least we can do is work to minimize those potential threats.”