The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island State Police joined with federal and state leaders today to highlight the upcoming new hands-free law in Rhode Island. The law takes effect on June 1 and prohibits a driver from using a hand-held wireless communication device while driving.
At a press conference today at AAA Northeast's Providence headquarters, officials discussed the many benefits of the new law. Distracted driving caused by use of personal electronic devices is a growing problem, leading to needless deaths and serious injuries.
The new hands-free law was sponsored by Senator V. Susan Sosnowski and Representative Kathleen A. Fogarty. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report in 2015, distracted driving claimed nearly 3,500 lives with nearly 400,000 people seriously injured in these crashes.
"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," said Senator Sosnowski. "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. Distracted driving is extremely dangerous."
"Our children are especially vulnerable to distracted driving. 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 Kathleen Fogarty. "Senator Sosnowski and I are proud to have sponsored this legislation and are gratified to see it going into effect."
"Like so many other types of crashes we see, those involving drivers distracted by their cell phones are preventable," RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said. "We will continue to work with our partners to educate the public about safe driving behaviors."
The new law allows drivers to use an in-car or other hands-free system or accessory, such as Bluetooth. If a police officer observes someone holding a phone while driving, her or she will be pulled over and may be fined up to $100. The offense may be waived for first offenders only by showing proof of purchase of a hands-free device before the fine is due.
The law does not include any provisions for minors, who already are not allowed to use a cell phone while driving – not even with a hands-free device. The law also does not supersede Rhode Island's no-texting law.
"With education and enforcement, there's no question this new hands-free law will save lives," said Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety. "We will do our part to ensure motorists understand and abide by the new law, which will make our roads safer for everyone."
At the event today, a variety of hands-free devices were shown and discussed. Many newer cars have features already built in, and Bluetooth devices are widely available at retail stores and online. Those having difficulty with pairing their phones should seek advice from the car or electronics retailer where they purchased the devices.
"Ground-breaking research by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety has highlighted the dangers of manual, visual and cognitive distraction while operating a motor vehicle," says John Galvin, AAA Northeast president and CEO. "We are proud to have supported the efforts of the Governor and the General Assembly in passing a common-sense hands-free law that will reduce crash risk and make all motorists safer on Rhode Island's roadways."
Additional information can be found online on RIDOT's website at www.ridot.net/handsfree.