Distracted Driving Laws in Tennessee & Beyond

Get all the information you should know about distracted driving laws in Tennessee and the surrounding states here in our Nashville criminal defense law blog.

distracted driving

Law enforcement agencies across the country are getting pretty creative with the ways they are seeking out and stopping distracted drivers. Police officers recognize when people chuck a smartphone down onto the passenger seat the moment the red-and-blue lights appear in the rearview mirror. Therefore, police are ramping up efforts to catch distracted drivers in the act and off-guard. Some have even gone incognito as construction crew members or indigents on street corners!

In Tennessee, some officers have even taken to catching rides on buses. From the bus, they can easily gain a downward vantage point into the cabins of smaller vehicles. Knoxville law enforcement boasts an almost-unbelievable 80 texting-and-driving citations given to drivers in just two hours

Your Rights as a Tennessee Driver

First, texting while driving is illegal in Tennessee and just about every state in the country, including those we discuss further on. Keep in mind that reading, typing, or sending a text message all counts as texting, according to the law. Furthermore, tablets and laptops can be interpreted as a “cellphone” in accordance of the law.

However, in Tennessee, you are not breaking any laws if you are an adult talking on the cellphone while driving, regardless of the use of a hands-free device or actually holding it. (Note: there is an exception with school zones! It’s best not to use your phone at all in a school zone!) Drivers with a learner’s permit or any form of an intermediate license cannot use a cellphone in any capacity while driving, though. Similar restrictions also exist in Georgia where cellphone use is completely prohibited for any driver under 18 years old. 

driving laws in neighboring states

  • Neighboring Alabama bans smartphone use for any driver under 16, or 17 if they only have a temporary license.
  • Arkansas sets complete cellphone age ban to those between 18 and 20 years of age. There is also a ban on cellphone use whenever a driver is near or in a construction zone or school zone.
  • In Kentucky, texting is prohibited if the vehicle is in motion; this may leave some room for interpretation if you are ticketed for texting while at a red traffic signal or stop sign. However, anyone under 18 years old cannot use a cellphone at all while driving.
  • Mississippi did not create legislation to outright ban handheld cellular devices, but a texting while driving ban is still in effect.
  • Furthermore, Virginia actually allows drivers under 18 to use a smartphone while driving – but only if they can prove that they were using the device to run a GPS app or similar map program. 

Safety consequences of texting and driving

According to safety groups like the National Safety Council (NSC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving has been linked to about 40% of all traffic accidents. Some estimates place this number higher, up around 60%. 

With just a cursory glance at the crash statistics, there is simply nothing that can be read or sent through a text message that is important enough to risk your safety and that of other motorists around you. Moreover, the NSC has found that hands-free devices also do not decrease the amount of distraction a driver experiences when composing or listening to a message. 

In addition, texting and driving can be hazardous to your finances. Many states will fine $50 to $500 for a first-time ticketing. This does not reflect the impact on premiums once an insurance company gets wind that one of their policy carrier was texting behind the wheel. Drivers with multiple marks on their driving records could also face additional consequences, such as higher fines or license suspension. 

It can wait. 

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