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Ban on handheld devices while driving once again passes RI Senate

PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — For the third straight year, the Rhode Island Senate has passed a bill banning the use of handheld devices while driving. The bill passed in a vote of 33-0 on Tuesday. It now goes to the House.

Texting while driving is already illegal in Rhode Island, and the statute has been applied to drivers who email, use Facebook, or even their smartphone’s GPS. But holding your phone to your ear and having a conversation is still legal, as long as you’re not under 18 or a school bus driver.

The bill that passed Tuesday, introduced by Sen. Susan Sosnowski, imposes a $100 fine for drivers who use a handheld device while their vehicle is in motion. Drivers can talk on the phone using hands-free devices, and emergency calls are exempt. Police officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers and taxicab drivers would also be exempt from the law.

“I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s about time we get some of the distractions off the road,” said Spenser Anderson, a student at Brown University. “People will be driving, but you’re still not fully engaged with the road.”

“Just holding the phone is distracting, because you cannot pay attention on the road,” said Nathalie Oulhen, a Providence resident. “And if anything happened, you can’t manage the car.”

Nearby states like Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York all ban the use of handheld devices while driving. Massachusetts and Maine ban texting while driving, with Massachusetts also banning the use of handheld devices for operators under 18.

Spokespersons for Gov. Gina Raimondo, State Police Col. Ann Assumpico and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti all said those officials support the bill to ban the use of handheld devices. Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare also said he supports it.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where spokesman Larry Berman said the committee has already considered an identical version of the bill introduced by Rep. Kathleen Fogarty. That bill was held for further study. Berman said House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is reviewing testimony and has not yet taken a position on the bill.

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