Distracted driving, especially when using a cellphone, is a serious problem throughout the United States. It is of particular concern in Tennessee, which had the highest rates of distracted-driving related deaths of any state according to a recent study. To put the matter into perspective, the national average of distracted driving fatalities is 1.49 per 10 billion vehicle miles. Tennessee’s average is approximately five times higher at 7.2 deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles. In 2018, the state total for accidents involving a distracted driver was 24,600.
Though driver distraction has always been a concern, the ubiquity of cellphones and the temptation to use them when driving has become a pressing concerning that state governments have taken steps to regulate through legislation. Altogether, 20 states ban the use of handheld cellphones while operating a motor vehicle. As of July 1, 2019, Tennessee became the 19th. Tennessee is also one of 48 states to ban texting while driving, as well as one of 39 states to ban all cellphone use while driving for novices with an intermediate license or a learner’s permit.
Under the new Tennessee law, a driver can face a $50 fine if caught holding, using, reaching for or playing/recording video on a cellphone while driving if it is the first offense. In a school or construction zone, or with repeat offenses, the fine can go up. The operator of the vehicle may opt to take a driver education course to reduce the fine.
In the following situations, the law does not apply:
- Calling authorities during an emergency
- Using hands-free devices or voice-to-text technology
- Navigating with the phone’s GPS if it is mounted somewhere in the vehicle
The goal is to reduce or eliminate the incidence of fatal distracted driving accidents in Tennessee. Hands Free Tennessee is a campaign intended to educate drivers in the state about the provisions of the law and drivers’ responsibilities under it.