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What Your Teen Needs to Know about RI’s Distracted Driving Laws

By Katie McEntire

Getting behind the wheel is exciting for a teenager, but as they become more comfortable with being on the road, they could adopt some risky behaviors. Distracted driving is a serious threat to drivers everywhere, including teens in Rhode Island.

The NHTSA reported that in 2017, “8% of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash.” Fortunately, Rhode Island has also been rated the second safest state for car crashes but also has the highest insurance increase for teen drivers. So before they get behind the wheel, make sure you talk to them about distracted driving and other dangerous habits to avoid on the road.

What is Distracted Driving?

Rhode Island defines distracted driving as  “when a situation, event or person draws a driver’s focus away from driving.” When driving isn’t your teen’s priority, their reaction times decrease and the risk of injuries increases. Distractions can include ringing cell phones, text alerts, a messy drive-thru snack, or conversation with other passengers in the car.

Cellphones and other wireless devices are especially dangerous because they require visual, manual, and cognitive attention. When someone texts and drives, they’re watching their screen, typing in a response, thinking of a response, and driving all at the same time. Even when a driver answers a short text, that amount of time can steal attention from the road and heighten the risk of injury.

Know Rhode Island’s Laws

As of June 1, 2018, Rhode Island prohibits driver use of any handheld wireless communication devices. Hands-free devices or in-car systems like Bluetooth are allowed, but drivers cannot hold a cellphone or wireless device while operating a vehicle. This law also applies to other electronics like headphones or earbuds. If your teen is caught using a handheld device, they could face a fine of up to $100.

 Be a Good Example 

Your teen may try to hide it, but they still look up to you. Before they even get behind the wheel, be sure to set a good example for their years on the road. Avoid distracted driving whether they’re in the car or not. Don’t text, call, email, or message while driving, avoid driving with headphones or earbuds, and keep your eyes on the road. It’s easier for them to develop good driving habits when they see what it looks like from an adult.

Encourage Them to Spread Good Habits

When riding with a friend, neighbor, or family member, tell them to say something when they notice unsafe behavior. Give them some simple lines to remember when they’re in a car with someone texting and driving. When your kids encourage good habits in their friends, it helps everyone in the vehicle avoid a dangerous situation.

Give Them an Alternative

Unfortunately, even hands-free driving can take attention away from the road. Instead of adding another gadget like phone holders or Bluetooth kits to your teen’s long list of distractions, suggest other solutions for using their phone in the car. Tell them to pull over if they need to take a phone call or ask a passenger to send that text instead.

Driving is a big, exciting step for your kids. It can be hard to talk safety with your teen, especially when they’re eager to hit the road. But having a conversation about safe driving can save their life, the lives of their passengers, and the lives of others on the road.

Katie McEntire is a safety expert and writer. You can find more of her writing on SafeWise.com.

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