PROVIDENCE, RI --- Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri has signed into law a bill banning texting while driving, making the state the 19th to implement such a ban.
Nine of those states, however, only ban texting by beginner drivers or in limited circumstances. On the other hand, six states and the District of Columbia take the ban further, prohibiting the use of handheld cell phones while driving.
The new Rhode Island law prohibits drivers from sending, writing or reading a text message while operating a vehicle. A first offense carries a $85 fine. That climbs to $100 for the second offense and $125 for the third or subsequent offenses.
"This is the height of driving while distracted, and the problem is only getting worse," Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-South Kingstown), one of the sponsors of the Rhode Island bill, told the Providence Journal. "I cannot think of anything more unsafe than looking down and typing on a phone while trying to drive a vehicle. We must stop this dangerous practice before more people are hurt and even killed."
Previously, just two groups were prohibited in Rhode Island from using a cell phone behind the wheel: drivers younger than 18 and school bus drivers, except in an emergency, when they are transporting children.
In other state news, Gov. Carcieri has also signed into law a bill that allows police to obtain search warrants compelling chemical substance tests for certain suspected drunken drivers. After obtaining a search warrant, law enforcement officers now have authority to take blood from drunken driving suspects who are involved in serious or fatal wrecks. Any chemical testing must be documented on audio and videotape.Blood samples can be required only after a suspected offender refuses to take a breathalyzer test.