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Avoiding Car Wrecks and Tickets – May’s Rules of the Road

This month, we will focus on the following two Rules of the Road: (1) the helmet law and (2) text messaging while driving.

Tennessee’s Helmet Law

Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-9-302 contains Tennessee’s Helmet Law for motorcycle drivers and passengers on Tennessee roads. The introductory paragraph to section 55-9-302(a) contains the basic rule:

The driver of a motorcycle, motorized bicycle, as defined in chapter 8 of this title, or motor-driven cycle, and any passenger on any of these, shall be required to wear either a crash helmet meeting federal standards contained in 49 CFR 571.218, or, if the driver or passenger is twenty-one (21) years of age or older, a helmet meeting the following requirements….

This rule is very straightforward as to the overall requirement. Despite the differing laws of our neighboring states, motorcycle drivers and passengers on Tennessee roads must wear helmets. The remainder of this statute provides some guidance on the type of helmet that must be worn, with special allowances for individuals who are twenty-one (21) years of age or older. The final section then clarifies that this requirement does not apply to vehicles such as golf carts and that it does not apply when the motorcycle is being driven in a parade, as long as the speed does not exceed thirty (30) miles per hour and the individual is at least eighteen (18) years old. Finally, section 55-9-306 provides that “a violation of this part is a Class C misdemeanor.”

Text Messaging While Driving

Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-8-199 contains Tennessee’s prohibition on text messaging while driving. The pertinent part of subsection (b) provides:

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.

Note how broad this language is. Specifically, the statute covers transmitting and reading of a “written message.” Thus, while the title of the statute refers to text messaging, this language could easily cover transmitting and reading email messages.

Subsection (a) defines “mobile telephone” and “personal digital assistant”:

(1) “Mobile telephone” means a cellular, analog, wireless or digital device that provides for voice communication and for data communication other than by voice; (2) “Personal digital assistant” means a wireless electronic communication device that provides for data communication other than by voice.

Subsection (c) clarifies that this statute only applies when the motor vehicle is in motion “at the time a written message…is transmitted or read by the person.”

The statute excludes law enforcement officers, EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders from the prohibition when they are in the actual discharge of their official duties.

Finally, subsection (d) provides the consequences of violating this section: “violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor, subject only to imposition of a fine not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00) and court costs not to exceed ten dollars ($10.00)….”

By Erik Fuqua