RI House passes bill banning cell phone use while driving

Woman driving car and texting message on smartphone, using mobile phone device while driving, dangerous and risky behavior in traffic

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – By a vote of 57-7, the Rhode Island House on Wednesday passed a bill that would make it illegal to hold a phone to your ear while driving.

The Senate passed a similar bill in April. Should the bill be signed into law, drivers caught using a handheld device behind the wheel would face a $100 fine. Bluetooth, ear pieces, and other hands-free devices would still be permitted, along with phone use for emergency calls.

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The Massachusetts State Senate also passed a hands-free bill on Thursday. That state currently only bans the use of a handheld cell phone for drivers under the age of 18.

Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont ban drivers from holding their phones while driving. Rhode Island and Massachusetts both ban texting behind the wheel.

Thursday’s vote by the Rhode Island House was the first time that chamber has passed a ban on hand-held cell phones while driving. The bill has passed the Senate three years in a row.

“It’s long overdue,” said Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-New Shoreham, who said she has sponsored the hands-free bill since at least 2009.

“It’s actually going to give the tools to law enforcement to make our roads safer,” she said. Police have long lamented their abilities to enforce the anti-texting law, which doesn’t ban the driver from holding the phone.

“I see a lot of people on the road talking and driving,” said David Darosa from East Providence. “An accident can happen in a second.”

“Why is it so important to be in constant connect with whoever?” asked Richard Machowski from Seekonk. “Most of the conversations I hear are like ‘hey, what’s going on, what’s up?'”

Under the bill, drivers who are fined for using a cell phone while driving will be able to have their first fine waived if they show proof of their purchase of a hands-free device.

Because the House and Senate passed slightly different bills, one chamber has to pass the other’s version before it goes to the governor’s desk. A spokesperson for Gov. Gina Raimondo said she supports the concept of the bill and would need to review the exact language before deciding if she will sign it.