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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Turn off that damned thing!

Senate passes Sosnowski bill banning hand-held cell phone use by drivers of motor vehicles

cheezburger  movies halloween creepy nightSTATE HOUSE — 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 (2016-S 2255) 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 three other New England states in banning hand-held mobile phones for drivers: Connecticut, which has had a ban since 2005, Vermont, which has had a ban since October 2014, and New Hampshire, whose ban went into effect on July 1, 2015.

Although lawmakers at the state and federal level are examining a wide variety of issues related to driver focus, the most common concern is the potential distraction caused by cell phones and other technology in the car. 

More than 220 million people in the United States subscribe to wireless services, and it is estimated that as many as 80 percent of those subscribers use their phones while driving, according to a report released this month by the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

In 2013, about 3,154 people in the U.S. died in crashes that involved a distracted driver, and 424,000 people were injured.

“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 35 to 2 to approve the bill, which will now be sent to the House, which is currently considering similar legislation (2016-H 7168) sponsored by Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown) in the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick), Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston), Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) and Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere (R-Dist. 38, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly).

EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch to see if our own Rep. Blake "Flip" Filippi introduces a Constitutional amendment to make it your constitutional right to yap on your cell or even play video games on your laptop while driving.