Rhode Island drivers could see a ban on hand-held cell phone use in motor vehicles as early as June 1, 2017.
The Senate approved a bill (2015-S 0267) sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), that would outlaw 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. Those caught violating this provision would 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.
“Unfortunately, it is no longer enough to fine people for texting while driving because talking on the phone while having one hand off of the wheel is equally distracting,” Senator Sosnowski said. “Admittedly, 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, who 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 would join two other New England states in banning hand-held mobile phones for driver:Connecticut, which has had a ban since 2005, and Vermont, which has had a ban since October 2014.
The senator pointed to a 2011 statistic from the U.S. Department of Transportation which shows that 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. Drawing from data during that same year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that drivers in their 20s made up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes. The government agency estimated that at any given moment during daylight hours, about 660,000 drivers across the country are using electronic devices while driving.
“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.”
The Senate voted 32 to 0 to approve the bill, which will now be sent to the House, which is currently considering similar legislation (2015-H 5634) sponsored by Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) in the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston), Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), and William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).