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What Rhode Island’s laws say about cellphones and driving

Karns & Kerrison

A hot topic of debate in Rhode Island has been whether or not simply looking at a cellphone or tablet screen is allowed by the law. Current restrictions reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures for the state include all texting and bans against any cellphone use, even hands-free, for bus drivers and any drivers under the age of 18.

The fight against distracted driving has required lawmakers to constantly track the effectiveness of changes made and discuss whether new regulations need to be put in place. Hands Free Info reports efforts made in past years that include the following updates.

  • In 2013, the state’s governor signed a new law that, included license suspension as a penalty for drivers who were caught texting while driving
  • for drivers who were texting or minors who were using cellphones while driving, fines of up to $250 were added in 2014.
  • A bill was submitted in 2015 that barred all drivers from using any wireless communication devices that are handheld. It died in the house after the Senate passed it.
  • A similar bill was filed in 2016 but again met with the same fate.

In August of 2016, a panel from the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal met to discuss whether a driver who was using a cellphone as a GPS device without touching it was violating laws against distracted driving. The group decided that this use was also prohibited and a driver may not view the phone’s interface under current laws. An appeal of this ruling has been submitted to the District Court.


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