Originally published in the Hickman County Times by the same author
Starting July 1, 2019, it will be illegal for Tennesseans to use their cellphones while driving, thanks to new law Public Chapter No. 412.
Dubbed the “Hands Free Law,” which was passed 53-38, with four present and not voting, this law comes on the heels of a state-wide campaign of the same name aimed at reducing crashes due to distracted driving.
“This was a progressional law…Now, all drivers must adhere to no handheld devices,” said Tennessee Highway Patrol District 7 Lt. Christopher Ray, who has been working to educate parents and students about safe driving throughout Middle Tennessee.
“This should hopefully return the drivers’ attention to driving, and free their hands for safer driving practices, (which will) hopefully reduce all crashes and keep more people alive and reduce injuries,” Ray said.
The campaign explains that it is now illegal for drivers to:
- Hold a cellphone or mobile device with any part of their body;
- Write, send, or read any text-based communication;
- Reach 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;
- Watch a video or movie on a cellphone or mobile device;
- Record or broadcast video on a cellphone or mobile device.
Drivers are still allowed to use a GPS for navigational purposes, as well as use a cellphone if it is “mounted on the vehicle’s windshield, dashboard, or center console in a manner that does not hinder the driver’s view of the road” and “the driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the (phone) with the motion of one swipe or tap of the driver’s finger,” according to the law. This one-touch exception does not include any feature related to a phone’s camera, video, or gaming features, or anything used for “viewing, recording or amusement.”
Voice-to-text and hands-free devices are still allowed.
When asked about the consequences, Ray explained that it will be treated similarly to a traffic stop: you could get a warning, or you could get a citation.
“Citations are always at the discretion of the law enforcement officer. Citations can and may be issued on first stop of the violation.”
Exceptions to the law only apply to:
- Police officers, campus police officers, public safety officers, emergency medical technicians, emergency medical technician paramedics, firefighters (both volunteer and career) or emergency management agency officers of any county, city or town in Tennessee, or any federal law enforcement officers when actually performing official duties;
- People using a cellphone to communicate with law enforcement agencies, medical providers, fire departments or other emergency service agencies while driving a vehicle, if the use is necessitated by a bona fide emergency, including a natural or human occurrence that threatens human health, life or property;
- Employees or contractors of utility services providers acting within the scope of their employment;
- Persons who are lawfully stopped or parked in their motor vehicles or who lawfully leave standing their motor vehicles.
A recent study referenced in the campaign found that Tennessee has the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the country, at over five times the national average. The campaign reports that there were over 24,600 crashes involving distracted driving in Tennessee in 2018 — which, on average, equals 67 crashes every day. Davidson County had the highest number of crashes, with 2,449 in 2018, while Hickman had only 16.
“Obey the Law! It does equal safer roads.”
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