New Rhode Island law targets habitually dangerous drivers

| 8/2/2011

A new law in Rhode Island is intended to catch habitually dangerous drivers.

Starting Oct. 1, anyone who has a third traffic violation in a 12-month period would be forbidden from paying their fine by mail. Instead, offenders would be required to appear before a judge.

The legislation – H5122 – is aimed at catching drivers like Laura Reale. She reportedly ran a stoplight on U.S. Route 1 in Charlestown a year ago, killing motorcyclist Colin Foote.

Reale allegedly had been cited for dozens of traffic violations in the past decade. She usually avoided having to appear in court, where a judge might have ordered further penalties such as license suspension.

She is now serving an 8-year prison sentence for Foote’s death.

“Habitually dangerous drivers shouldn’t be able to pay their way out of trouble each time they flout traffic laws,” Rep. Donna Walsh, D-Charlestown, said in a statement. “When they are piling ticket on top of ticket, there needs to be something that triggers a court appearance so a judge can determine whether they deserve a stiffer sentence.”

In a separate action, another bill, H5449, was signed into law toughening the state’s seat belt law.

Rhode Island already requires all drivers to wear seat belts, but adult drivers can only be ticketed for failure to buckle up if they are stopped for another offense, such as speeding.

Effective immediately, the new law authorizes law enforcement to pull over offenders simply for not wearing a seat belt. Violators would face $85 fines.

In addition to the benefit of safety, the state gets a financial boost for adopting the stricter enforcement. In exchange for tightening their belt rule, Rhode Island can collect about $4 million in incentive money from the federal government.

In all, 32 states have primary enforcement of seat-belt laws.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Rhode Island, click here.

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