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House and Senate Pass Distracted Driving Bills

Drivers education students will be taught and tested on distracted driving, notably texting and driving, if the bills are signed by the Governor.

The House and Senate today passed legislation that would require driving students to be educated and tested on the issue of distracted driving, especially on the risks posed by making phone calls or sending text messages while behind the wheel.   

“Our new drivers need to be aware of all the dangers that come with calling, texting or just not paying attention while driving,” said Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Cranston, Warwick), the bill’s lead sponsor in the House. “We owe it to our students to prepare them for all the dangers of the road. Putting the issue of distracted driving on our license tests will make our drivers more aware of their actions and ensure that our roads are a safe place to drive.”

With enactment of the legislation, the state’s driver’s education program at the Community College of Rhode Island would add the issue of distracted driving to their curriculum. Furthermore, the issue of distracted driving would be included on state license tests so that candidates for drivers’ licenses would be required to learn about it in order to drive.           

The McNamara House bill (2013-H 5655) was co-sponsored by Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly) and Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston). It passed the House of Representatives on April 11, and was passed in concurrence by the Senate today.         

The Senate bill (2013-S 660) was sponsored by Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) and co-sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr.  (D-Dist. 10, Bristol, Tiverton, Warren) and Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick). It passed the Senate on April 25, and passed the House in concurrence today.          

“The more cell phones we have, the more distractions there are for our drivers,” said Senator McCaffrey. “We need to make sure all our drivers are aware of the risks posed by these distractions, so they can protect themselves on the road. Driving is the most potentially dangerous thing we do every day, so anyone getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle has to be aware of and know how to deal with these issues.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has reported that at any given moment, 13.5 million drivers are on handheld phones, and that in 2010, more than 3,000 roadway deaths involved distracted drivers. Additionally, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, this is the equivalent of driving a full 100 yards, the length of a football field, completely blind.

Both the House and Senate bills now head to the Governor’s desk for approval.

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