Rhode Island Senate Passes Seat Belt, Cell Phone Driver Bills

June 27, 2011

The Rhode Island Senate has advanced two bills on driver safety, one boosting seat belt enforcement and another banning young drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.

The cell phone proposal would make it illegal for drivers under 21 to talk on a handheld phone while driving. Hands-free devices would still be allowed. Violators would be subject to a $100 fine.

The Senate passed the bill 36 to 1. It now moves to the House for consideration.

Sen. Frank Lombardo is the bill’s sponsor. The Johnston Democrat said too many accidents are caused by drivers talking on their cell phones, and that young drivers are among the worst offenders. Rhode Island already bans texting while driving.

The seat belt legislation — passed by the state Senate on Thursday 25-13 — would allow police to pull over and fine motorists who aren’t buckled up. The state already requires seat belts for all motorists, but adult drivers can only be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt if they were first pulled over for another violation, such as speeding.

Supporters said a stronger law would save about four more lives every year and prevent many more traffic injuries. Opponents argued the state cannot force common sense through legislation. Some senators also fear police could use the new law to target minority drivers.

The House has scheduled a vote on similar legislation this week.

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