Rhode Island bill targets chatty drivers

| 5/9/2005

Rhode Island Senate’s Judiciary Committee is reviewing a bill that would require drivers to keep their hands off their phones.

Sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, the measure – SB482 –would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device would still be permitted for most drivers.

Drivers under age 18 would be prohibited from using any phone.

The bill would make it a secondary offense to drive while using a hand-held phone – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed for talking on the phones. Violators would face a $35 fine for the first offense, $70 for the second, and $140 for the third and subsequent offense.

Emergency calls would be exempted.

Currently, New York and New Jersey have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. That may change, however, as more studies underline the risks and dangers of driving while chatting on the phone.

A recent study by the University of Utah found that when drivers between the ages of 18 and 25 talk on cell phones, they drive like elderly people – moving and reacting more slowly and increasing their risk of accidents.

David Strayer, a University of Utah psychology professor and principal author of the study, told The Providence Journal laws banning all but hands-free devices are a reaction by lawmakers who perceive that cell phones are a problem.

However, he said it doesn’t matter whether the phone is hand-held or hands-free, calling into question the effectiveness of legislation similar to that proposed by Sosnowski. Any activity requiring a driver to “actively be part of a conversation” likely will impair driving abilities, Strayer said.