Dangers of distracted driving added to driver's ed

Rhode Island lawmakers passed a law that will crack down on distracted drivers.

Both the Senate and the House have passed two new bills related to distracted driving, and now that the governor has signed the bills into law.

Local legislators are hoping the additional rules will help keep drivers in the Ocean State safer.

Sen. Michael McCaffrey, a Democrat from Warwick, introduced the bill. "What the bill does, it requires that as a component of the driver education program, the students will learn about distracted driving. That would include texting while driving, speaking on the phone while driving, I assume eating, grooming, and things of that nature while you're driving," said Sen. McCaffrey.

In a recent NBC 10 experiment, in just 30 minutes time, the news cameras caught three different Providence drivers looking at their cell phones and either reading or sending texts or emails, instead of focusing on the road.

We asked one young woman if she thought teens often drove while texting. Jayleen Jacques of East Providence said, "Yeah, I know plenty of people who text and drive."

And it's statements like that which have McCaffrey and other lawmakers hopeful the additions to the driver's education curriculum will help to curb the practice.

"I think that the kids do (listen), because when they started using seatbelts in cars my own kids would always say 'put the seatbelt on (Dad),' so if they learn it when they're young, hopefully if it wears off on them, it wears off on their parents, also," he said.

Residents of all ages say they support the move. Michael Zabatta of Warwick said, "I think it's a great idea. I work for a company that bans talking and texting on the cell phones when we're in the car, so actually it's much needed on the exams for young drivers." And Zabatta's 12-year-old son agrees.

"I think it's a good idea because I think teens like to text, and they get into car accidents, and it's bad for people around them, and even (bad for) them," said Giovanni Zabatta.

McCaffrey says even though this new effort will only serve to educate new drivers, it could actually (eventually) deter older motorists from driving distracted too. "I think if you start with the youth, it could trickle up to the older people as the kids are in the car with their parents and the parents are doing something, they'll say, 'don't do that. You're distracted driver."

The senator said the bills became law the instant Gov. Chafee put his signature on them.

That means within the next few waves of driver's education classes, local teens will learn about the dangers of distracted driving, and be tested as part of the exam on the topic.