Rhode Island Seeks to Clarify what Cell Phone use is Permitted while Driving

In Rhode Island, the law reads that “[n]o person shall use a wireless handset or personal wireless communication device to compose, read, or send text messages while driving a motor vehicle on any public street or public highway within the state of Rhode Island.” With that said, a recent Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal ruling expands the interpretation of "read" by making it a violation to manipulate your cell phone to use GPS while driving. In a decision that has drawn criticism from some in the defense community, a three-magistrate panel upheld a finding that an East Providence man violated a state law banning text messaging while driving when a state trooper spotted him using his GPS. If upheld, the tribunal's reading of the law would make Rhode Island the only state in the nation to ban any manipulation of a cell phone by drivers, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. However, talking on a cellphone — an activity that many other states prohibit unless a hands-free device is used — is still allowed.

MN Supreme Court Kills Warrantless Blood AND Urine Tests

Just last week the Minnesota Supreme Court enacted what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year, telling authorities if they want to get drunk drivers off the road by testing their urine or blood, they need to get a warrant. At issue is the Minnesota law that makes it a crime for DUI suspects to refuse invasive searches without a warrant. A portion of the law — one requiring drivers to submit to blood and urine testing — was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. Regarding the urine tests which the US Supreme Court did not address, “a urine test is more similar to a breath test than a blood test,” Gildea wrote in her opinion, a significant point because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a breath test without a warrant in Minnesota is not unconstitutional. But she said the fact urine can provide more information than simply the level of alcohol in the body makes the urine test more like the blood tests that were struck down precisely for that reason.

Prop 64: THC Testing Issues on the Minds of Ca Law Enforcement

As Californians prepare to vote next month on Proposition 64, which would allow recreational use of marijuana, many law enforcement leaders and prosecutors warn that the state is ill-prepared to handle an expected significant increase in people driving under the influence of pot. In a recent jury trial, the defendant told an LAPD officer he had smoked pot five hours before he was pulled over on Melrose Avenue for driving erratically. A blood test found a significant level of the chemical THC in his system, and a drug recognition expert ruled he was too impaired to drive safely. But a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury deadlocked on whether the young, off-duty valet had committed a crime by driving under the influence of marijuana, which he said he smokes for back pain and anxiety. Similar outcomes are being seen all over California by law enforcement officials who say an initiative that would legalize recreational use of pot fails to properly address the issue of drugged driving. In the Los Angeles case, 11 jurors voted to acquit. Only one juror voted to find the motorist guilty. The jurors said they could not convict largely because there is no standard set in California law for what concentration of THC in the blood renders a driver unsafe, according to Josefina Frausto, the deputy public defender on the case.

New Data: Traffic Fatalities Rise Sharply in 2015

(While we posted this last month, there was significant discussion on the data so we are reposting.) The nation lost 35,092 people in traffic crashes in 2015, ending a 5-decade trend of declining fatalities with a 7.2% increase in deaths from 2014. The final data released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed traffic deaths rising across nearly every segment of the population. The last single-year increase of this magnitude was in 1966, when fatalities rose 8.1% from the previous year. "Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Solving this problem will take teamwork, so we're issuing a call to action and asking researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the fatality data and help find ways to prevent these tragedies.”

Issue Brief: Admissibility of Not Wearing a Seatbelt

In light of the 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling in Nabors Well Services, Ltd. v. Romero this Issue Brief looks at the admissibility of seatbelt non-use as evidence in car accident cases. Also of great use to readers is a state-by-state breakdown of state legislation that dictates the rules on admissibility relative to seatbelt evidence. The article also looks at the recent research and case law applicable to the topic. 

NCSC Traffic Resource Center

TheTraffic Resource Center is a cooperative effort between the Department of Transportation and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to establish a resource for judges, court administrators, court clerks, and other court staff on issues related to traffic adjudication. It is an integrated clearinghouse of information as well as a training and technical assistance resource to improve court decision-making and processing of traffic cases involving impaired driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, and commercial driving. The purpose of the Traffic Resource Center website is to provide a useful, ready reference for judges new to the bench or recently assigned to traffic cases, who may need quick access to accurate and timely information until they can receive more formal, structured education.

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