As reported in the October 7, 2010 edition of the Sakonnet Times, the Town of Portsmouth issued one of its first texting citations. According to Portsmouth Police, a motorist struck both a sign and a utility pole while driving. Initially the driver stated he was making a telephone call when the accident occurred. However, the driver later charged his story and admitted that he had been texting when the accident occurred. Portsmouth police issued him a citation for texting.
Text messaging while driving has only been illegal in Rhode Island since November of 2009. Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 31-22-30(b), no person 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. There are exceptions to the law. Texting is allowed to contact emergency personnel, such as members of the police, fire department and EMTs. Texting is also permitted when the motor vehicle is parked or stopped and is removed from the flow of traffic.
R.I.G.L. 31-22-30(e) states the penalties for texting:
Any person who violates any of the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be 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); and for a third or subsequent conviction a person shall be subject to a fine of one hundred twenty-five dollars ($125). All violations arising out of this section shall be heard in the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal.
The law making texting illegal while driving applies to all Rhode Island drivers. However, laws against cell phone use while driving only apply to minors, persons under eighteen (18) years of age. Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 31-22-11.9, use of cell phones by minors while operating motor vehicles is prohibited. Like texting, cell phone use is allowed in an emergency situation.
R.I.G.L. 31-22-11.9(b) states the penalties for cell phone use:
Any person who violates any of the provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by fine of fifty dollars ($50.00). For a second conviction under this section a person shall be punished by a fine of fifty dollars ($50.00). 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.