ABC6 News Investigation: Is Rhode Island "Texting Tolerant?" - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather

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ABC6 News Investigation: Is Rhode Island "Texting Tolerant?"

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by ABC6 News Reporter Mark Curtis

mcurtis@abc6.com

Everywhere you look on the roads and highways these days, people are texting and driving, even though it's illegal.

"I've seen too many people driving distracted. It scares me. I mean I'll see them creep up to me and they are all thumbs and all this stuff. Man it scares me," said Gene Carignan, a driver from Coventry.

So we wondered, is anyone enforcing the law?

ABC6 news filed a public records request with seven of Rhode Island police departments including the State Police.

The results may surprise you.

We looked at 46 months of data, since texting and driving was outlawed.

Only 878 tickets have been issued in all of Rhode Island.

That amounts to just one ticket, every–other day, statewide.

"We all see people out on the road, holding up traffic and swerving, and causing major problems on the road. They're still out there and they are not learning their lesson. They are not being ticketed," said State Rep. Charlene Lima, (D) Cranston.

ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis said, "But Police tell us it's not so easy. If I'm dialing a cell phone call like this – that's legal. But if I'm sending a text doing the very same motion, that is against the law."

Officers say it's hard to tell the difference.

"So if we don't have any factual basis if we see someone using their fingers to use their phone, if they say they weren't texting, we have to prove they were texting," said Col. Steven O'Donnell of the Rhode Island State Police.

And that means the costly and time consuming process of getting a court order for cell phone records.

So one lawmaker now, has a different idea.

After someone is ticketed for texting and driving, they would have to install an electronic blocking device in their car.

"As soon as the car is taken out of 'Park' and goes into 'Drive,' the driver only will be unable to receive or send a text," said State Rep. Lima.

But the blocking device technology is controversial, and is being opposed by the ACLU.

"The penalty doesn't fit the crime. The penalty is unduly large given the infraction the person has incurred," said Hillary Davis, a lawyer with the Rhode Island ACLU.

But the State Police Colonel has a low–tech idea.

Keep texting illegal, plus make all hand–held cell phone calls by drivers illegal, too.

Unless you take calls on a hands–free headset device, drivers will be forced to put down the phone.

"We're also going to lobby the legislature again. To help us take the phones out of those people's hands, so they don't get hurt, they don't get killed," said Col. O'Donnell.

Until the law is changed, many cops tell us there won't be many tickets for texting and driving.

 

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