When it comes to using mobile devices while driving, Rhode Island has some of the strictest laws in the country. Visitors to the state may be caught off guard by the restriction placed on drivers. But the rules are in place for a reason. Drivers who use cell phones while operating a vehicle are dramatically more likely to cause serious accidents with devastating consequences. One study found that as many as 10,000 injury accidents are caused every year as a result of distracted driving in Rhode Island.
Under Rhode Island General Laws Chapter 31, drivers operating a motor vehicle may not send or receive text messages or make phone calls unless their device is fully hands-free. To send or read text messages legally, a driver must first pull out of the flow of traffic safely and legally and stop their vehicle. Contrary to what many people think, it is not legal to read or send texts while stopped at a red light or paused in traffic, because even a stopped driver must remain alert and aware.
Drivers are permitted to use GPS or another navigation system on their phone or tablet, and they are allowed to use their phones if they are contacting emergency responders in connection with an accident or other emergency situation. However, drivers should be careful not to use GPS as an excuse for texting and driving. If a police officer has reason to believe a driver is violating the law, the police department is able to pull cell phone records to show when text messages were being sent or received.
People who text while driving have lowered reaction time and a limited awareness of their surroundings, making them significantly more likely to cause an accident. Common accidents caused by texting drivers include:
- Rear end accidents. With eyes fixed on a small screen, it’s hard to see another vehicle stopping ahead. In packed cities, it only takes a split second of inattention to close the distance to an abruptly braking vehicle, often causing significant damage and serious injuries.
- Stop signs. Without full attention on the road, a driver can miss a stop sign at an intersection and blow straight through. Drivers who run stop signs while texting are fortunate if they only end up with a fine; in many cases, this can cause a t-bone accident or even a head-on collision with a turning vehicle.
- High-speed collisions. Many of the worst outcomes of texting and driving occur when distracted drivers drift out of their lane at highway speeds. With no time to react, other drivers may swerve too hard and strike other vehicles, or run off the road entirely. Even more devastating, a texting driver may lose control of his vehicle and careen across the median, ending up facing oncoming traffic at 150 miles per hour or more.
- Pedestrian accidents. Drivers who use handheld devices are much less likely to notice pedestrians or cyclists in crosswalks. People struck by a vehicle in a crosswalk are likely to receive serious or even life-threatening injuries.
Because Rhode Island’s traffic code specifically prohibits texting and driving, drivers who injure a plaintiff while using a handheld device may be considered negligent per se in civil court. Negligence per se changes the standard of proof in personal injury cases, making it easier for victims to recover for their injuries. However, using this law requires the skill of an experienced litigation team. The law office of Louis W. Grande has helped numerous victims of texting and driving accidents. If you’ve been injured due to a distracted or careless driver, call for a free consultation and find out what our firm can do to help.