RI Senate approves ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving

The Rhode Island Senate voted 35 to 2 Wednesday to ban hand-held cell phone use by drivers.

The Rhode Island Senate voted 35 to 2 Wednesday to ban hand-held cell phone use by drivers.

The issue has been debated for more than a decade at the State House and still needs to pass the House of Representatives.

"This is primarily about safety," said Senate sponsor Sen. Susan Sosnowski, who represents South Kingstown and New Shoreham. "There are already so many dangers and distractions on the road -- the least we can do is work to minimize those potential threats."

Getting caught using a hand-held phone would bring a $100 fine.

But a first-time ticket can be suspended if the driver provides proof they bought a hands-free device.

"It's absolutely dangerous," said Lisa Brodeur, of Providence. "It's a matter of life or death, really."

Brodeur feels strongly about driving while having a phone next to her ear, so she uses the blue tooth set up that links to her phone to make hands-free calls in her car. She's all for the proposed law.

"I think that would be fantastic," said Brodeur. "It's long overdue."

Other drivers agreed, including Milena Falkner, of Barrington.

"I have a couple children and I don't think you can talk on the phone while driving," Falkner said. "I think it's the biggest hazard."

But no hand-held phone users wanted to talk on camera. It would be a change for them.

Connecticut has had the hands-free law for years. Bryan Levasseur of Connecticut says it took some getting used to.

"I got a couple tickets right in the beginning," he said. "But now it's just commonplace and it feels absolutely crazy to pick up the phone and talk in Connecticut where now when I come to Rhode Island to travel and I see people talking on the phone while driving, it does seem pretty crazy. I think the law does need to be implemented."

The House has held a hearing on the issue, but held the bill for further study.

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