Rhode Island bills target teen drivers with cell phones

| 6/23/2006

The Rhode Island General Assembly has approved a pair of bills that are intended to cut cell phone use by young drivers in the state.

The House signed off on changes to one bill – H7372 – made in the Senate, which clears the way for the bill to move to Gov. Donald Carcieri's desk for his signature.

Sponsored by Rep. Peter Kilmartin, R-Pawtucket, the measure would forbid drivers under age 18 from talking on cell phones – even “hands-free” devices – while behind the wheel. It would exempt emergency phone calls.

Violators would face $50 fines for first and second offenses. Subsequent offenses would result in $100 fines and possible loss of driving privileges until age 18.

“This is definitely a step toward making all Rhode Islanders safer on the road,” Kilmartin said in a written statement. “(New drivers) will be safer under this law, and so will everyone else on the roads.”

Legislators approved a similar bill that would impose $100 fines for teens chatting on the phone while driving and possible loss of driving privileges until age 18.

Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said she would have preferred an all-out ban on cell-phone use by drivers of any age, but hoped the ban on young drivers would help “educate” other drivers as to “what a dangerous distraction” cell phones can be while driving, The Providence Journal reported.

Sosnowski's bill – S2451 – also is headed to the governor's desk.

The efforts follow a recent National Transportation Safety Board report that recommended novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while behind the wheel.

The safety board said that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. The board's report also said distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards.

Currently, nine states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. Only Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones.