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Reading a Text Message Enough to Sustain Texting While Driving Charge

Rhode Island texting while driving

In both an insignificant and meaningful decision the RI traffic tribunal determined that reading a text was enough to sustain a civil texting while driving offense in RI. This post was authored by an East Providence car accident attorney and RI texting while driving victim’s injury lawyer

The distracted driving trial on the merits

At the Distracted Driving trial, the police officer testified that he “observed the Appellant holding his illuminated cell phone at eye level.” and that “he was able to pass the Appellant’s vehicle slowly enough to clearly witness the Appellant holding an illuminated cell phone with the text message screen open and in plain view.” Id.

The alleged texting and driving violator denied that he was texting. “Appellant testified that the document indicated that there were no sent or incoming text messages within the timeframe of the stop. Id. Subsequently, the Appellant’s text messaging records from June 23, 2013 were entered as a full exhibit without objection from the State.1 See Defendant’ Id. Thankfully, there was no motor vehicle crash or car accident or anyone injured as a result of this incident!

Case Citation and laws | texting while driving

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Traffic Tribunal sitting in Providence Rhode Island issued a texting while driving / distracted driving legal appellate decision in STATE OF RHODE ISLAND v JASON KILSEY C.A. No. T13-0056 : 13001519371(Keep in mind that this Court is a low level Court which is not binding precedent on the Providence Superior Court or the RI District Court or The Rhode Island Supreme Court.) Read the decision here: textingdrivingri Read Rhode Island’s Texting While Driving Statute§ 31-22-30  Text messaging while operating a motor vehicle

The Court decision

The Court sustained the Trial Judges decision finding no abuse of discretion because there was sufficient evidence to support finding that the alleged violator was reading a text message which is clearly prohibited by the texting while driving statute. The Court reasoned that “The legislature’s intent when drafting and enacting section 31-22-30 (b) was to prohibit inattentive driving caused by composing, reading, or sending text messages. SeePartington, 681 A.2d at 260.” Id.


The Traffic Tribunal reasoned:

“However, the trial judge specifically mentioned that § 31-22-30, “Text messaging while operating a motor vehicle,” prohibits activity that would not be reflected within the Appellant’s text message records from June 23, 2013, such as manipulating the phone and reading a text. See Tr. at 26-29; Tr. at 31. In addition, the trial judge credited the testimony of the Trooper stating that he observed the Appellant holding his cell phone in his hand, had a clear and unobstructed view of the text messaging screen, and witnessed the Appellant manipulating the cell phone with his hand as the Appellant’s vehicle swerved from the left to the right. Id. Appellant timely filed this appeal.” id.

“Section 31-22-30 (b) of the Rhode Island General Laws states that “[n]o person shall use a wireless handset to compose, read or send text message while operating a motor vehicle on any public street or public highway within the state of Rhode Island.” Section 31-22-30 (b) clearly and unambiguously states that reading text messages is a prohibited activity. “It is well settled that when the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, this [Panel] must interpret the statute literally and must give the words of the statute their plain and ordinary meanings.” Accent Store Design, Inc. v. Marathon House, Inc., 674 A.2d 1223, 1226 (R.I. 1996)”Id.

CDC Distracted Driving statistics:

The CDC reports that “Each day in the United States, more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.1 Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. Distracted driving can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash.

There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road;
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel; and
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving.”
  • “Distracted driving activities include things like using a cell phone, texting, and eating. Using in-vehicle technologies (such as navigation systems) can also be sources of distraction. While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction.”

How big is the problem?

  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011, compared to 416,000 people injured in 2010.”


Rhode Island Personal Injury Lawyer