Distracted drivers
April 06, 2021 Safety News

Distracted Drivers in Rhode Island

Since the start of the pandemic, traffic in Rhode Island and across the country has dropped significantly but roadways have actually gotten more dangerous, according to the National Safety Council.  Nationwide, there has been a 24% spike in roadway death rates over the previous 12-month period, despite miles driven dropping 13%. As many as 42,060 people are estimated to have died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 making this increase in the rate of death the highest estimated year-over-year jump that NSC has calculated in 96 years.

Rhode Island continues to have startling motor vehicle accident rates. In fact, the estimated number of motor vehicle deaths in Rhode Island increased from 58 in 2019 to 73 in 2020 --- a 26% increase. Rhode Island was one of eight states in the United States with more than a 15% increase in the estimated number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents from 2019 to 2020:

  • Arkansas (+26%)
  • Connecticut (+22%)
  • District of Columbia (+33%)
  • Georgia (+18%)
  • Mississippi (+19%)
  • Rhode Island (+26%)
  • South Dakota (+33%)
  • Vermont (+32%)

Human Error Leads to Car Accidents

More than 700 people each day on average are injured in distracted driving accidents in the United States. Texting or talking on a cell phone, even hands free, can be extremely distracting and divert your attention away from driving. Paying attention and staying alert while driving can help prevent accidents that lead to death and injury. As more and more people are using smartphones, or operating navigation and entertainment systems while driving, the roads become more and more dangerous. 

Three Main Types of Distractions while Driving

Ninety percent of car crashes involve human error. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a dangerous distraction. This includes talking on a mobile phone, sending a text message, using a navigation system, or eating and drinking while driving. This can be a danger to you, your passengers, and other people on the roads including pedestrians. There are three main types of distractions:

  1. Visual: taking your eyes off the road
  2. Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
  3. Cognitive: taking your mind off driving

Take Action to Make Our Roadways Safer

Drivers: As a driver, you should remember not to multitask while driving. Don't play with your stereo, eat a sandwich, read an email, send a text message, or adjust your mirrors. Do this before your trip, or pull off the road, park, and then do what you need to. If you need a reminder, there are a number of free apps you can use to help avoid cell use while driving. A cell phone blocking app can be activated as part of your wireless plan, or by downloading from the app store. Essentially, the app puts a "geofence" or virtual barrier around the driver, so you won't receive notifications or calls while driving. Don't worry --- the app will still allow you to make emergency calls. And as a passenger, you can still use your phone. Read more about technology solutions in this article from National Safety Council. 

Passengers and Parents: As a passenger or a parent, you can also do your part to discourage distracted driving. Speak up if the driver seems distracted. Ask them to focus on driving and put their device down. Emphasize that texts and phone calls can wait.  You can also reduce distractions by assisting with navigation or making adjustments to the radio. Parents can play an important role in helping their teen adopt safe driving behaviors. Set consequences and have a conversation with your teen about what is expected when driving or when riding in a car with friends. Set an example by keeping YOUR eyes on the road and your hands free while driving. For more tips, the CDC provides helpful Resources for Parents.

Employers: As an employer, you can take steps to ensure your employees don't engage in distracted driving behaviors. If your business requires employees to drive during their workday, you may consider registering your employees for Beacon's Motor Vehicle Safety Course offered quarterly. Your company can also develop a written cell phone policy for all drivers that includes a disciplinary procedure whenever a driver violates the policy. When accidents happen, you should ensure that there is a thorough investigation to determine the root cause. With all incidents, it is important to take steps to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Keep reminding your employees about safe driving. Consider holding regular safety meetings and emphasize the importance of preventing distracted driving throughout the year. 

Rhode Island State Law Prohibits Hand-Held Devices while Driving

According to the law which took effect in June 2018, drivers cannot hold a cell phone or other wireless device while operating a vehicle in Rhode Island. The use of headphones or other accessories that cover both ears is also prohibited. Drivers can use in-car or other hands-free systems or accessories. If a police officer observes you holding a phone and talking or texting while driving, you may be pulled over and fined up to $100.  Visit the RI Department of Transportation Hands Free webpage to learn more and download a printable flyer.

Take the Pledge and Share 

The National Safety Council encourages participation in the "Just Drive" campaign. You can sign up online to receive downloadable Distracted Driving Awareness Month materials including posters, fact sheets, infographics, social media posts and more. You can also commit to driving distraction-free by taking the NSC Just Drive Pledge. 


  • For more information about safe driving, read The Dangers of Distracted Driving. 
  • Beacon Mutual offers a Motor Vehicle Safety Course several times a year. Register or learn more by visiting Safety Seminars & Webinars
  • Beacon offers a Driving with Distractions course, one of more than 20 online driver safety courses offered free to policyholders from the Beacon Online University.
  • The Safety Library includes downloadable safety alerts including Cell Phone Safety, 3-Second Driving Rule, Defensive Driving, and Winter Driving Tips. 

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Michelle Pelletier
Written by

Michelle Pelletier


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