As of Oct. 1, Rhode Island law targets habitually bad drivers

| Monday, September 26, 2011

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

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

The new law 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 eight-year prison sentence for Foote’s death.

Advocates for the change said habitually dangerous drivers should not be able to pay their way out of trouble each time they flout traffic laws.

“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,” Rep. Donna Walsh, D-Charlestown, said in a previous statement.

Another new law toughens the state’s seat belt rule for drivers.

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.

The change 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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