Cell phone use while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving, according to a 2006 University of Utah study. Despite the obvious dangers, only 14 states ban handheld cell phone use all together when driving, while 44 states ban texting while driving.
If Sen. Susan Sosnowski’s bill passes the House of Representatives, Rhode Island could be the next state to ban all cellphone use behind the wheel starting in 2017.
While texting and driving is illegal in Rhode Island, Sosnowski says the law is hard to enforce.
“The only way to stop people [texting] is if there’s no handheld wireless communication at all,” she said.
The law, based on Connecticut’s legislation, would fine drivers $100 for using a handheld phone while operating a vehicle, except for in emergency situations.
“It’s more of an educational bill,” said Sosnowski. “The fines are minimal, and can be waived if the individual gets a wireless communication device prior to when the fine is due.”
Sosnowski said she sees many young people using cell phones driving down Rt. 138 by the University of Rhode Island.
“I see so many young people texting,” she said, but adds that it’s also people between the ages of 35 and 50 where she sees most of the talking happening. She said you can tell when a person is using a phone because they have their hands through the steering wheel and their head down.
Generally, students feel that cell phone use while driving is prevalent on URI’s Kingston campus.
“It can easily cause an accident or increase the chances of hitting someone walking since we have such a busy campus,” said junior Andrea Barboza, who agreed with the ban.
Sosnowski said she gets calls from people who walk around her district who are concerned about being hit by distracted drivers.
URI Police Lt. Michael Chalek said that around campus there aren’t very many actual traffic accidents around campus, let alone those involving cell phones, but he does feel distracted driving is “a prevalent issue everywhere.”
“They used to tell us back in the day three leading causes of accidents were speeding, inattention and condition of the operator,” Chalek said. “Inattention can lead to speeding, which is a large cause of accidents.”
He’s not wrong either. A 2002 study done by URI professor Manbir Sodhi and Professor Jerry Cohen tracked the eye movements of volunteer drivers who used cell phones. He found that driving and talking on the phone creates a type of distracted tunnel vision that does not stop when the conversation ends.
In the study, Sodhi said that holding the cell phone was not necessarily the problem, but thinking about something other than driving was. Even doing small tasks like changing the radio volume showed more alertness than talking on a cell phone.
Junior CJ Rose disagrees with the ban, but does see the danger in people using their phones while they drive.
“I think it [using cell phones] should be at the discretion of the driver. Using GPS and music is something no one is going to stop doing,” said Rose.
Senior Katie Wakefield feels the ban is a good idea, but she does no’t think it will stop people from using their phones.
“It bothers me,” Wakefield said. “I’m scared they are going to plow into me or someone else. Sad part is that we all do it. I guess I agree with the ban. I mean, I’ll just be bad and use my phone just like everyone else. Like no one should use their phone while driving but everyone will do it anyway.”
Sosnowski has been working to pass the bill since 2008, and hopes that this will give people a chance to educate themselves about the dangers and on road distractions.
“I’ve watched people pull right out in front of other cars in intersections,” said Sosnowski. “This is a more prevalent issue now more than ever.”
Reference: Cohen Law Group Automotive Accident Attorneys.