Over the last couple of decades, the consequences associated with distracted driving have taken center stage for lawmakers, advocacy groups, and even motorists. While distracted driving is not new, one of the biggest distractions is – cell phones. In response to the dramatic increase in the use of cell phones, while operating a vehicle, states across the country have enacted a variety of laws relating to the use of handheld electronic devices while driving. To help ensure that you understand the law, a Murfreesboro personal injury attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains Tennessee’s new texting and driving law that took effect at the beginning of July.
The Tennessee Law
Distracted driving is something every driver should be concerned about given the dangers it poses. Tennessee lawmakers are particularly concerned because Tennessee leads the nation is distracted driving deaths. A recent study revealed that from 2015 to 2017, Tennessee had the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the nation, at 7.2 distracted driving deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles. Tennessee’s rate is nearly five times higher than the national average of 1.49 fatalities per 10 billion vehicle miles.
As a response to the risks posed by distracted driving, this April (2019) the Tennessee Senate approved a new cell phone law by a vote of 23-7, making the state the 19th state to ban cellphone use while driving. That law went into effect on July 1, 2019. Section 55-8-199 of the Tennessee Code now governs the use of handheld electronic devices while driving, reading in pertinent part as follows:
“No person while driving a motor vehicle on any public road or highway shall use a hand-held mobile telephone or a hand-held personal digital assistant to transmit or read a written message; provided, that a driver does not transmit or read a written message for the purpose of this subsection (b) if the driver reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in a hand-held mobile telephone or a personal digital assistant for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call.”
In short, the law prohibits drivers 18 and older from using, holding, or physically supporting a cell phone, tablet, or another similar electronic device while operating a vehicle. Note that drivers under age 18 are already prohibited from using cellphones while driving. Some common examples of activities the law prohibits include:
- Holding a cellphone or mobile device with any part of the body
- Writing, sending or reading any text-based communication
- Reaching for a cellphone or mobile device in a manner that requires the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a seat belt
- Watching a video or movie on a cellphone or mobile device
- Recording or broadcasting video on a cellphone or mobile device
Exceptions to the Law
The law does not prohibit the use of cell phones entirely. Hands-free operation of a cell phone is not prohibited. This includes earpieces, headphone devices, or a device worn on a wrist to conduct a voice-based communication as well as dashboard mounts. You can also use one swipe or tap to turn a feature on or off if the phone is mounted in the vehicle and you may still use GPS devices. In addition, the law does not apply to:
- Officers of the state or of any county, city or town charged with the enforcement of the laws of the state, when in the actual discharge of their official duties;
- Campus police officers and public safety officers, as defined by § 49-7-118, when in the actual discharge of their official duties;
- Emergency medical technicians, emergency medical technician-paramedics and firefighters, both volunteer and career, when in the actual discharge of their official duties; and
- Emergency management agency officers of the state or of any county, city or town, when in the actual discharge of their official duties.
What Are the Penalties for Violating the New Cell Phone Law?
A violation of the new cell phone law is a Class C misdemeanor which will result in a fine of $50 plus no more than $10 in court costs for a first-time offender. The fine can be waived if the driver takes a driver education course. Conversely, the penalties increase for subsequent violations. The fine jumps to $100 for a third offense or if the use of a cellphone results in a wreck. If the violation occurs in a work zone when workers are present or in a school zone when warning flashers are on you can expect to pay a $200 fine.
Contact a Murfreesboro Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been injured in a collision that you believe was caused in whole or in part by a distracted driver, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro personal injury attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.