Tennessee Distracted Driving Laws
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
Tennessee’s Texting While Driving Stand
In Tennessee, the number of crashes related to cell phone use has increased significantly in the last three years. In 2011, more than 1,000 car accidents were related to the use of mobile phones. In 2008, that number was just 650. This has sparked the desire for legislative reform regarding the use of cell phones by motorists. While a 2011 law requires that Tennessee drivers face harsher consequences in the event that they hit a pedestrian or bicyclist, some say that the threat of jail time or loss of license is not enough because it does not specifically address the use of electronic devices.
Using a cell phone to send text messages while operating a vehicle is currently prohibited in the state of Tennessee; however, the punishments associated with it are more relaxed than many approve of. There are also laws against using new drivers using cell phones when they are driving, whether they have a learning permit or a new license. School bus drivers are not allowed to talk or text while driving if they are carrying passengers. There are also laws against using entertainment devices, such as DVD players, available for use by the driver of a vehicle. While measures to reduce distracted driving have been enacted in the past, many have been shot down.
Already in 2012, several pieces of legislation have targeted distracted driving. The House Bill 2998 passing would mean that drivers would be unable to have animals on their seat or near their door while the vehicle is in motion. Senate Bill 3110 has the same stipulation. There is a city judge in Chattanooga that is pushing for an ordinance to make texting while driving a misdemeanor. That would make the offense a moving violation rather than just a citation. This would also mean that the driver would receive a point on his or her license. The driver’s insurance would also be affected. It would be treated similarly to a speeding ticket. In addition, the driver would have the opportunity to take the case to court and challenge the citation.
This is not the first year that senators and house members of Tennessee have considered distracted driving legislation. In 2011 a House Joint Resolution pushed for drivers to stop using their mobile phones in school zones, but there was no law resulting from the resolution. There was another bill that attempted to prohibit the use of cell phones in school zones that would carry a fine of $50, but it was not enacted. Two years earlier Senate Bill 393 was signed into law, which prohibited texting while driving. It is still not a moving violation, however.
While several studies have shown that the majority of drivers do believe that it is extremely dangerous to text and drive, about a quarter of them will do it despite the potential consequences. Other studies have reported that many drivers view texting and driving to be as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but they do not stop doing it. Many people feel that there is a growing need for laws regarding texting while operating a motor vehicle and that people are not making good decisions. Gail Kerr, a columnist, claims that teenagers are dying because the law does not tell them to stop texting.
Some police forces in Tennessee have begun to use unmarked vehicles to catch drivers texting on the road. Sport utility vehicles work well for allowing police to look into cars to see if drivers are texting or simply using a radio remote or dialing a phone. Highway patrol officers are able to make informed stops and issue more citations for texting and driving. The number of annual citations for texting has increased since 2009 when the citations began.
It is not just texting that has come under fire in recent years either. Tennessee lawmakers have also sought to limit the use of handheld cell phones for drivers. The use of cell phones, even for talking, has been banned for school bus drivers since 2003. In 2005, lawmakers worked to ban the use of cell phones by new and learning drivers.
There is still significant hesitation to pass laws regarding driving and texting. Many cell phone-related legislation pieces are rejected or die before they can be put into place. Some are left to consider what the best consequences for drivers who text should be. There is still concern over how to treat those who break the ban on using handheld electronic devices while operating motor vehicles. Many think a simple fine is appropriate while others are lobbying for it to become a misdemeanor offense.