Header, the Administration of the Honorable Lincoln C. Almond
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  2002 Signature
2002 Veto
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July 11, 2001


In accordance with the provisions of Rhode Island General Laws § 43-1-4, I am transmitting herewith, with my disapproval, 2001-H 5757 Substitute A, "An Act Relating to Motor and Other Vehicles - Use of Electronic Devices."

This bill would require drivers of motor vehicles and bicycles to employ a hands-free device when using a mobile telephone, except when reporting emergencies 10 911, state and local police or fire departments. This bill would also clarify the existing ban on the operation of bicycles and motor vehicles while wearing earphones or a headset. The bill would not take effect until July 1, 2002, nearly a year from now.

Available statistics show that tuning a radio, eating, speaking to other people in the car, reaching for something within the vehicle, reading, writing and using the glove compartment have all been found to be more distracting to drivers than is the use of a cell phone. According 10 a working paper of the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, cell phone use contributes to just 0.2% of focal accidents. Only three states have collected information on the issue long enough to report any findings. In Oklahoma, phones were related to only 0.1% of accidents in each of 1998 and 1999; in Minnesota, either a phone or a CB radio contributed to merely 0.05% of accidents in 1999; and in Tennessee, phones were involved in less than 0.2% of crashes in 1999. None of these states has yet enacted a cell phone ban.

Additionally, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently examined 26,000 traffic accidents. Only 1.5% of those accidents involved wireless phone use, a small percentage compared to other distractions, including eating and (non alcohol) drinking (18.8%); adjusting music selection (11.4%); other occupants in the vehicle (9.4%); and moving objects in the vehicle (3.2%). According to this AAA Foundation study, the percentage of accidents which involved wireless phone use was similar to the percentage of accidents that involved the adjustment of climate controls (1.2%) or smoking (1.2%).

Such evidence, in my view, does not end die debate, but it does mean that such a ban should come only in the context of other distracted driving issues and receive further study. Supporters of a ban, while acknowledging that other distracted driving may significantly contribute to accidents, point to other studies showing that accidents resulting from hand held cell phone use is not insubstantial. The statistics are inconclusive. That is why the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has urged Congress to be patient and not enact any ban until definitive data on cell phone usage can be assembled and assessed.

Nearly every State agrees. To date, although various hand-held cell phone ban bills have been introduced in at least 40 States, only New York has enacted such a ban. Even that law is substantially different than this bill. New York provides a 30 day period where motorists will receive only a warning and then for the next three months, a judge can waive the fine if the driver can prove that he or she has bought a headset or speakerphone.

Any legislation must also take into account concerns voiced by the by the Division of State Police (the "Division"). The Division receives a significant number of calls from drivers on their cell phones reporting drunk driving, highway debris, disabled vehicles and incidents of road rage, among other violations. The Division is concerned that the enactment of this bill could have a chilling effect on the willingness of drivers to report such dangerous occurrences, since they are not emergencies. In fact, there was much debate in the General Assembly on the definition of "emergency" contained in the bill, and whether that definition was too narrow. A floor amendment that nearly passed the Senate would have broadened the definition to account for emergencies calls that were not made to law enforcement. The Division has also questioned how the hand-held cell phone ban could be enforced. Concerns were also raised over a lack of an exception in this bill for law enforcement, emergency workers or undercover agents, among others.

I raise the question of whether any new legislation should mandate that a hands-free headset be sold with all new cell phones. Presently, it is my understanding that a compatible headset can be purchased with virtually all new cell phones. Soon an-inexpensive headset will be available for every cell phone sold. "We should investigate whether requiring that one be sold makes sense.

In the next General Assembly session results will be available of studies presently underway by authorities such as the National Conference of State Legislatures. In addition, New York's new law will be on the books and its effect available. The new information should assist in guiding any Rhode Island legislation, and legislation in sister stares and in Congress.

Given that this bill would not have taken effect until July 1, 2002 this veto has no effect until a year from now.

I would point out that we have made great strides in highway safety during my tenure, but we have a ways 10 go. Two important and necessary traffic safety bills died this year: one, a primary seatbelt law; and two, the ability of law enforcement to obtain blood alcohol samples (with a warrant) for drunk drivers involved in serious auto accidents. While continuing to contemplate a hand held cell phone ban, I hope and expect that we can enact these crucial highway safety bills into law next year.

For these reasons, I disapprove of this legislation and respectfully urge your support of this veto.


Lincoln Almond