Central Falls police chief says hands-free law might need revisions

(WJAR)

Central Falls Police Chief Col. James Mendonca is watching closely how the new hands-free law plays out.

“I think it's one of the most difficult laws we've passed, probably since the seatbelt law,” Mendonca said.

Mendonca said the first nine drivers cited by Central Falls police are expected in court Friday, and he'll will be taking note of how many tickets are contested.

“With the texting law, we've noticed about 50 percent of the cases we've had so far have been contested,” Mendonca said.

Ticketed drivers have to appear before the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and don't have the option to pay by mail. Mendonca, who's also the president of the Rhode Island Police Chief’s Association, said that could become a burden for police departments. He said many members would like that to change.

“I think many chiefs throughout the state would prefer it to be concurrent jurisdiction, maybe be heard in their own municipal and town courts,” Mendonca said.

Contested tickets could result in overtime not just for Central Falls police officers, but also for officers across the state.

“It could affect our budget,” Mendonca said. “I think it's an unknown right now.”

More than 600 citations were handed out during the first month of the law. Drivers face $100 tickets if they’re caught holding their phone while driving.

Ticketed drivers can have their citations dismissed if they show a judge proof that they purchased a hands-free device.

Craig Berke, a spokesman for the Traffic Tribunal, said 43 drivers have had their tickets dismissed upon evidence of a hands-free accessory.

Mendonca wants to wait to see how the law plays out before deciding whether changes need to be made.

“Time will tell if there's a need for that. It's just something that is in the back of our minds,” he said.

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