Rhode Island motorists texting and driving or engaged in other forms of distracted driving kill thousands of people each year and injure hundreds of thousands more.

In 2009, authorities made texting while driving illegal in the state. They also implemented strict rules forbidding young motorists from using phones and other devices while driving, even via Bluetooth and other hands-free options. Under those regulations, violations are punishable by fines and a driver’s license suspension.

Recently, reviews of the state’s distracted driving facts and statistics prompted state authorities to expand their efforts to cut down on auto accidents caused by texting. As of June 1, 2018, new laws further crack down on driving distractions and increase the range of penalties drivers can be subjected to if they are caught holding or manipulating a phone or other electronic device while operating a motor vehicle.

What is distracted driving in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island laws against distracted driving encompass more than just text-messaging use. Recognizing that distracted driving accidents can also be caused by texting, social media and other activities that take motorists’ hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road, state authorities have expanded the distracted driving law to cover any use of a cell phone or other electronic device that is not conducted solely through Bluetooth or other wireless devices or technology while driving. Driving while wearing headphones or other devices that cover both of a motorist’s ears is also prohibited.

Distracted Driving Laws in Rhode Island for Handheld Devices

In an effort to stop distracted driving and reduce accidents, Rhode Island law forbids motorists to hold or operate cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. State law specifically states that there can be no texting and driving by motorists of any age or experience level.

Most motorists are permitted by law to talk on the phone while driving so long as they use Bluetooth or other hands-free technology and devices. However, Rhode Island prohibits headphones and other equipment that covers both of a motorist’s ears and impedes awareness of the immediate environment while driving.

Recognizing that statistics show the risk of cell phone distraction and related accidents to be noticeably higher among novice drivers than more experienced motorists, state texting while driving laws explicitly ban minors from using or operating phones and other electronic devices while driving in any form, including via Bluetooth.

However, the state makes exceptions for genuine emergency situations. Motorists may be absolved of a distracted driving ticket if they are found to be using their devices to communicate with 911, the police, a fire department or other emergency services personnel as the result of urgent circumstances while driving.

Texting and Driving Laws in Rhode Island

The dangerous effects of texting and driving prompted Rhode Island to instate a blanket ban on cell phone use for all drivers in 2009. Drivers can receive a texting and driving ticket if they are caught violating the ban despite their age, experience level and license class.

Rhode Island Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers

Statistics and facts about distracted driving in Rhode Island and across the county clearly demonstrate that young and inexperienced drivers are significantly more likely than others to be involved in texting accidents. As a result, Rhode Island motorists younger than 18 years of age are subject to additional restrictions related to cell phone and electronic device usage.

Rhode Island Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders

Distracted driving consequences may be exempt for certain Rhode Island commercial drivers license holders. For example, emergency responders, such as law enforcement, firefighters, public utility workers and ambulance drivers are legally permitted to use their cell phones and devices while engaged in authorized work activities.

Laws on texting and driving do not apply to the drivers of commercial vehicles including taxis and tow trucks while they are on the job. However, certain exceptions apply. While bus drivers may use their cell phones when there are no passengers in their vehicles, school bus drivers may not.

Distracted Driving Penalties in Rhode Island

The consequences for distracted driving in Rhode Island can be severe. Texting and driving fines are substantial and climb quickly with recurring infractions. Motorists can have their driver’s licenses suspended for as long as a month on their first violation. Suspension length more than doubles on a motorist’s second offense. A third ticket can cost drivers their licenses for up to half a year.

The first time a Rhode Island motorist receives a ticket for cell phone use while driving, there is a chance that it may be waived. If he or she purchases hands-free devices and presents the receipt or other proof of purchase when appearing at traffic court, then the court may choose not to impose fines or other penalties. However, this waiver is not guaranteed.

Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in Rhode Island

Rhode Island authorities strongly encourage motorists to familiarize themselves with the facts on texting and driving, including the frequency and severity of the hundreds of thousands of avoidable injuries state residents sustain every year as the consequences for texting while driving.

They also recommend that motorists give their full attention to operating their vehicles every time they get behind the wheel. Motorists who feel that they must have access to their devices while driving can avoid catastrophic distracted driving consequences by purchasing and consistently using Bluetooth and other hands-free devices so that they can keep their hands and eyes engaged in operating their vehicles safely.

Last updated on Wednesday, October 14 2020.