In 2009, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation to ban text messaging while driving. This ban applies to all drivers in Rhode Island and is considered to be a "primary" offense, meaning the police can pull over drivers for that offense alone. The purpose behind the law was to improve safety on the roads by trying to prevent distracted driving.
Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 31-22-30(b), "no personal shall use a wireless handset to compose, read or send text messages while operating a motor vehicle on any public street or public highway within the State of Rhode Island." Pursuant to subsection (e), violators are "upon [a first] conviction subject to a fine of eighty-five dollars ($85.00); for a second conviction shall be subject to a fine of one hundred dollars ($100.00); and for a third or subsequent conviction a person shall be subject to a fine of one hundred twenty-five dollars ($125.00)."
Rhode Island is not alone in its ban on texting while driving. Nearly 20 of the 50 states have similar bans and many others are considering the issue. Even with the ban, new studies have shown that teenage drivers are still texting.
According to a study conducted by the American Automobile Association and Seventeen Magazine, 86% of teens have driven while distracted, even though 84% of them acknowledge that they should not. More than 1/3 of teen drivers admitted that they have near accidents due to their own or another driver's distracted driving. Distracted driving is especially risky for teen drivers because of their inexperience behind the wheel. According to AAA, car accidents are the leading cause of death for teen drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that distracted drivers are four times (4x) more likely to be involved in crashes compared to other drivers. In addition, drivers who are texting are more than twenty times (20x) more likely to crash than non-distracted drivers.
Although texting while driving is thought to be the biggest distraction for teen drivers, the Rhode Island General Assembly has also taken steps to eliminate distraction from cell phone use. Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 31-22-11.9 "the use of a cell phone by a minor while said minor is operating a motor vehicle shall be prohibited, except in the case of an emergency. For the purposes of this section, the term "minor" shall include any person less than eighteen (18) years of age." For a first and second offense, the fine is $50.00. However, "for a third or subsequent conviction a person shall be punished by a fine of one hundred dollars ($100) and/or loss of license until the user reaches his/her eighteenth (18th) birthday. Both laws attempt to force teens to focus on driving and thereby reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents.