Three states boost deterrents to distracted driving

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/22/2013

Efforts at statehouses around the country to boost the deterrent for motorists to drive while distracted are now law.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a bill into law to increase the penalties for texting while driving.

Already in effect, the rule change allows the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal to consider license suspensions instead of, or in addition to, fines for offenses.

First-time offenders of the texting ban would face $85 fines and/or license suspension for up to 30 days. Repeat offenders could be fined $100 and/or loss of driving privileges for up to three months. Subsequent offenses could result in $125 fines and/or license suspension for up to six months.

Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said the new law will send a message to drivers.

“A simple fine is not enough to deter a driver from texting while he or she is operating a vehicle,” Sosnowski said in a news release. “The possible addition of a license suspension is a much more appropriate repercussion for such a dangerous practice.”

In Illinois, two new laws are also intended to persuade drivers to put down their cellphones, or similar devices. The changes take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed one bill forbidding the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

The new rule makes an exception for hands-free or voice-operated modes, as well as headsets.

Violators face fines of $75. Subsequent penalties increase to as much as $150.

Rep. John D’Amico, D-Chicago, said the rule change is about motorists taking responsibility for helping to keep roads safe.

“When people get behind the wheel, they have a responsibility to themselves and to others to drive safely,” D’Amico stated.

Also signed into law is a bill to increase penalties for drivers who get in wrecks while using electronic devices.

Offenders would face up to one year in prison for wrecks that cause injury. Wrecks that result in death could result in prison terms up to three years.

Oregon also has a new rule that will allow the state to dig deeper into the pocketbooks of many texting drivers who are nabbed by police.

Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill to double the maximum fine for texting while driving to $500 – up from $250. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, the rule applies only to drivers using handheld devices.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is also responsible for posting about 100 signs around the state warning motorists of the new penalties.

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