On Friday, June 1, 2018, Rhode Island will go “hands free.” This movement comes in response to a law, § 31-22-31, passed last year in an attempt to cut down on distracted driving.

What is prohibited under the new hands free law?

The new law entitled “mobile telephone usage by motor vehicle operators” will prohibit motorists from “operating a motor vehicle while using a hand-held personal wireless communication device to engage in a call while a vehicle is in motion.”  Essentially, this prohibits motorists from holding a phone in their hand and/or holding the phone up to their ear.

What activities are included in this prohibition?

  • “Engaging in a call”
    • This means “talking into or listening on a hand-held personal wireless communication device”
  • Holding a phone in your hand and/or up to your ear
  • Text messaging while driving
    • Text messaging is still illegal under Rhode Island General Laws 31-22-30

What is allowed under the hands free law?

  • Answering/ hanging up a call
    • Drivers may hold a hand-held device to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a phone. However, to air on the side of caution, motorists are advised to use docking devices to hold their phones and to use buttons on their steering wheels, when available.
  • The use of hands- free devices
    • This includes Bluetooth systems installed in motor vehicles, ear phones, head sets and other wireless technology. However, headphones may not cover both ears.
  • Using speakerphone
    • Motorists may talk on speakerphone, so long as they do not hold the phone in their hand.
  • Using GPS
    • In 2017, lawmakers specified within the text messaging statute, that drivers may use GPS devices and GPS apps on their phones while they are driving.
    • However, in order to comply with the hands free law and text messaging law, motorists should type in addresses prior to starting their trip or should pull over to do so.
    • Motorists should also refrain from holding their phone while using GPS and should instead use a dock or holster.
  • Making emergency calls
    • Emergency calls include calling 911, a hospital, a doctor, an ambulance company, a fire department, a police department, or a public utility such as electric companies, natural gas companies, and water companies.

Penalties for using a hand-held device

Any person found guilty of violating Rhode Island’s hands free law will face up to a $100.00 fine.  However, a motorist charged with a first offense may have the charge dismissed upon providing proof to the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal that the motorist purchased a hands-free accessory or device.

Can I use the Rhode Island Good Driving Statute to dismiss mobile phone violation?

This violation is not clearly exempt from the Good Driving Statute, meaning that drivers may be able to use their good driving record to dismiss this violation.  However, much like the text messaging statute, Traffic Tribunal judges are split on their policies regarding using the Good Driving Statute to dismiss the violation.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible to use the Good Driving Statute, drivers must have a clean driving record for over three (3) years.  If a motorist is allowed to use the good driving statute, they will still be required to pay mandatory court costs of $63.25.

How long will a mobile phone violation be on my driving record?

Like other violations in Rhode Island, a conviction for using a cell phone while driving will be on a motorist’s driving record for three (3) years.  The three year period is calculated from the date of conviction, rather than from the date of the offense.

How can I fight a hands free violation?

Under the hands free law, it is assumed that a motorist is engaged in a prohibited call if a police officer views the phone in the driver’s hand and or near the person’s ear. This assumption can be rebutted or disputed by evidence that the operator was not engaged in a call.  This may include evidence such as cell phone call logs and records.

Should I hire a Rhode Island Traffic Ticket Lawyer to fight a cell phone violation?

Yes! Our experienced RI traffic ticket lawyers have the knowledge and experience necessary to successfully challenge tickets for using hand-held devices. Our traffic ticket attorneys appear at the Traffic Tribunal on a daily basis and are well versed in the changing laws in Rhode Island.

If you or a loved one has been charged with using a hand-held phone in Rhode Island, contact the skilled Rhode Island traffic ticket attorneys at Abilheira Law today.  Our attorneys will zealously fight against this ticket!

Call us today, 401-245-5100.