RI bill would ban cellphone use while driving

A proposal at the State House would make it illegal to drive while using a hand-held cell phone, except for public personnel or in an emergency situation.

Violators would be subject to a $100 fine, though the penalty would be waived for first-time offenders who provide a receipt from the purchase of hands-free telephone equipment.

State Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, the bill's sponsor, said studies show that distracted driving can be more dangerous than drunken driving.

States including Connecticut, California, New York and Illinois already band hand-held cell phone use by all drivers. Rhode Island does prohibit younger drivers from using hand-held devices, and texting while driving is illegal for all drivers.

However, Sosnowski said she still sees people holding cell phones and just missing other cars. She wants drivers to have both hands on the wheel.

"But I think it's long overdue. I really do. I watch it go on all the time. I get calls from people all the time, runners, walkers, bicyclists that have either been hit or close accidents," she said.

Sosnowski believes there's only one safe way to drive.

"If you're hands free, you don't have your hands on anything except the steering wheel. That's why this bill is so important and I think that's why we have to get this bill passed," she said.

The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told NBC 10 it doesn't object to the proposal, some lawmakers say an awful lot of their constituents still use cell phones while driving and they're opposed to it.