Distracted driver citations more than doubled this year in RI

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island State Police have more than doubled the number of citations written for texting while driving, and a recent Traffic Tribunal ruling stated you don’t have to be sending or receiving a text to violate that law.

Among the hundreds of drivers nabbed under the statute in 2016 was Onasi Olia Rojas, the driver who state police say was sending Facebook Live video of his reckless driving down Route 6. According to the video, he was driving over 100 miles per hour at times before crashing into a garbage truck.

The state’s “text messaging” statute does not mention other potentially distracting uses of a phone, but the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal recently upheld a magistrate’s ruling that a driver who was using the GPS feature on his phone violated the law.

“Appellant need not be typing in order to be in violation,” the ruling stated. Nor must Applellant be “sending or receiving a text message at the time of operation in order to be in violation of the statute.”

The driver in that case, Joseph Furtado, appealed the tribunal ruling to Superior Court.

As these cases move forward, statistics provided by state police show 513 distracted driving citations have been written so far this year, doubled the total of 231 written last year, and substantially higher than the 328 tickets written in 2014.

Rojas’s driving records shows he was ticketed in May for texting while driving.

That was one of a string of violations starting with speeding in February of 2015, a lane violation five months later, another speeding ticket in March, and a third speeding violation in May.

His license was suspended Nov. 15.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.