The Haynes Firm January 2020



Tennessee’s Hands-Free Driving Law What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Last year, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill making it illegal to hold a cell phone while operating a vehicle. This legislation came in response to mountains of data showing that distracted driving is the No. 1 cause of car crashes. In fact, more teenagers are killed or injured by distracted driving than drunk driving. Distracted driving is a huge problem, and with the amount of information that we can access through our phones, it’s unlikely the problem will go away soon. The law provides that no one may operate a motor vehicle on any road or highway in Tennessee while holding, or supporting with any other part of the body, a cell phone. The law says that drivers over the age of 18 may use a cell phone to communicate through headphones or a vehicle’s Bluetooth speaker system, but the driver may only touch the phone itself by tapping one button to initiate and terminate the call. Text messaging is, not surprisingly, prohibited as well. That means drivers are prohibited from writing and reading text from their phone. That includes texts, emails, internet information, and instant messages. However, a driver over the age of 18 may use their device to automatically convert a voice message into a written message via voice command. Drivers may also use their phones (without holding them) to provide navigation assistance through the car’s Bluetooth or the cell phone speaker.

Watching videos or recording videos of any kind is also prohibited. Reaching for a cell phone in the vehicle is prohibited if it requires you to move out of a driving position, like leaning into the back seat to reach for a cell phone. You may mount your cell phone to the dash, cup holder, center console, or windshield. You can physically touch it if limited to a swipe or a tap, so long as the phone isn’t used for its camera, video, gaming, internet, etc. Again, you can use your phone for navigation, but physically touching the phone must be very limited. Violation of the law is a class Cmisdemeanor and carries a $50 fine for first offenders. Those fees go up if an offender repeats. $200 fees are levied for violations of the law in a school zone while flashing or a work zone when workers are present.

auto crashes, we expect that cellular service providers will begin maintaining user data for a longer period of time, making it easy to obtain cell phone use information following a crash. Experts are already able to analyze a physical cell phone for these purposes if the cell phone is still available after a case is filed. Lawyers will be looking for citations given in violation of this law as part of any car wreck investigation. They will no doubt try to use any driver’s use of a cell phone in violation of the law as evidence of negligent or reckless conduct in the event of a crash with injuries. You may want to practice turning your phone’s “do not disturb” function on, which blocks receipt of texts while your phone is connected to your vehicle by Bluetooth. The takeaway is this: We need to avoid using our phones in a way that distracts us from our duty of safe driving. It’s against the law and can result in catastrophic injuries to ourselves and others. We are too important to the ones we love to ignore these laws! Be safe out there!

With all the data out there showing the relationship between distracted driving and

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-Olen Haynes,Jr. | 1

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