Rhode Island’s law that bans the use of a handheld device while driving a motor vehicle goes into effect on Friday, June 1, 2018.
Taxicab driver’s are partially exempt from the law, which stipulates that taxicab drivers are permitted to operate a handheld device when no passengers are present in their vehicle.
There are 34 licensed taxicab drivers operating on Block Island during the summer season who would be permitted to continue to use a handheld device while operating their taxicabs.
“Taxi drivers are exempt from the law, but only if you are driving a taxi. I think that needs to be made clear,” said Vin McAloon, Vice Chair of the Commission on Motor Vehicles for Hire. McAloon made those remarks as part of the Chair’s report at the board’s meeting on May 16.
McAloon said that with the new taxicabs there is Bluetooth already installed in the vehicles, so a driver can connect their phone to the device and be hands-free. “So it shouldn’t be an issue anyway,” he said, noting he was happy with taxicab drivers being exempt from the law.
“I bought two new iPhones this year; one is for myself, and the other is for operating my taxi,” said taxicab owner Fran Migliaccio. “And I have a bracket that it mounts on, so I can be pretty much hands-free. It’s better than holding it, and trying to navigate at the same time. I think it’s safer.”
“I find that it’s most handy when I am operating the vehicle, and I receive an incoming call,” said McAloon. “You just have to hit a button on the steering wheel to receive the call. The only problem with Bluetooth is everyone in the cab can hear the conversation. But in my particular case I only hear the call in my hearing aid.”
Democratic Senators Susan Sosnowski, Frank Lombardo, Cynthia Coyne, William Conley and Frank Lombardi are responsible for introducing the partisan bill known as S0175 in February of 2017. The bill “prohibits the use of a non-hands-free personal wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle, except for public safety personnel or in an emergency situation, and would provide monetary fines for violations.”
Greg Pare, Director of Communications for the Senate, speaking on behalf of Sen. Sosnowski, told The Times that the reason taxicabs are exempt from the law is related to “compromise language” that was included in the bill in order to pass the legislation. He noted that, “Taxicab drivers are allowed to use a handheld device when there are no passengers in their vehicle.”
The bill signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo in July of 2017 imposes a fine of up to $100 for drivers using a handheld device while operating their vehicle. Drivers are permitted to speak on their mobile phones while using a hands-free device, and emergency calls are exempt from the law. Also exempt from the law are police officers, firefighters, and ambulance and taxicab drivers, as well as tow truck and bus drivers without passengers onboard. Note: The offense may be waived for first offenders only by showing proof of purchase of a hands-free device.
Rhode Island joins 25 other states imposing some form of enforcement for drivers who use a handheld device while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion. There are 16 states that have banned the use of handheld devices, while no state bans handheld use for all drivers. For more information about Rhode Island’s law go to: https://legiscan.com/RI/bill/S0175/2017.