In 2001, Rhode Island’s General Assembly passed Peter Kilmartin’s bill banning handheld cell phones.
It was to be one of the first laws in the United States protecting citizens from drivers who were distracted by their cell phones. The governor vetoed the legislation.
Almost a decade later, Rhode Island finally sent another governor a distracted driver law, but this one was signed into law on Nov. 10. But the law outlaws reading, writing and sending text messages while behind the wheel — not the use of cell phones.
The sponsor? Rep. Peter Kilmartin, D-Pawtucket.
“I realize this is a 10-year effort, and if we can get the most egregious offense out of the way at this time I’m happy doing this,” Kilmartin said after the Oct. 29 vote in the state House that sent the plan to the governor.
The House’s debate on the texting ban included criticisms that the bill did not go far enough and ban cell phone use by drivers.
Kilmartin, a former policeman, was almost hit by a driver using a handheld electronic device a decade ago.
The Rhode Island texting ban become effective immediately. The state Department of Transportation already is preparing signage that would help unaware drivers avoid fines of $85 to $125.