Rhode Island bill takes phone from teen drivers

| 7/2/2003

Rhode Island teens might soon have to turn off their cell phones before getting behind the wheel of a car.

A bill introduced last month in the state House would prohibit anyone under 18 from chatting on the phone while driving – even if they’re using a hands-free device.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Peter Kilmartin, D-Pawtucket, told The Providence Journal he proposed H6524 in response to a recent National Highway Transportation Safety Board recommendation that novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board says that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. Distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards, the agency says.

“Learning how to drive and getting comfortable in traffic requires all the concentration a novice driver can muster,” NTSB Chairwoman Ellen Engleman said in a statement. “Adding a distracting element like a cell phone is placing too many demands on a young driver’s skills.”

Under the bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, underage drivers caught using cell phones would be fined $50. Kilmartin said he plans to add an exemption for emergency calls.