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Tennessee Handheld Cell Phone Ban Takes Effect on July 1: Here’s What Drivers Need to Know

A new law, effective July 1, 2019, makes it illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving in Tennessee. The law, which Governor Bill Lee signed on May 21, will require all drivers in the state to either utilize hands-free calling and texting or wait until they get to their destination to pick up their phone.

Under Tennessee’s current law, adult drivers are prohibited from using handheld mobile devices only while driving in school zones when the warning flashers are in operation. Drivers under

the age of 18 are prohibited from using handheld devices when their vehicles are equipped with hands-free technology. The new law is significantly broader, and it brings Tennessee in line with at least 16 other states that have enacted widespread bans on the use of handheld mobile devices behind the wheel.

Here is what you need to know about Tennessee’s new handheld mobile device law:

1. The Law Makes It Illegal to “Physically Hold or Support” a Mobile Device While Driving.

The new law makes it illegal to hold a cell phone or any other mobile electronic device while driving on Tennessee’s public roads and highways:

“A person, while operating a motor vehicle on any road or highway in this state, shall not . . . [p]hysically hold or support, with any part of the person’s body, a (i) Wireless telecommunications device . . . or (ii) Stand-alone electronic device.”

It also separately prohibits drivers from reaching for a cell phone or other device if this results in the driver, “no longer be[ing]: (i) In a seated driving position; or (ii) Properly restrained by a safety belt.”

2. The Law Also Makes It Illegal to Send a Text or Email Without Picking Up Your Phone.

In order to prevent drivers from getting around the law by not “holding or supporting” their phones, the law also prohibits reading and writing text messages, instant messages, emails, and website content, regardless of whether or not a driver physically picks up their phone. In fact, it stands to reason that attempting to type on a phone that is resting on the center console could actually be more dangerous than attempting to text while holding your phone right in front of you.

3. Tennessee’s New Handheld Mobile Device Ban Is Subject to a Limited Number of Exceptions.

Tennessee’s new handheld mobile device ban is subject to a limited number of exceptions. Under the new law, it is not unlawful for a driver to:

  • Use a single button to initiate or terminate a voice call;
  • Use an app or feature that automatically converts voice to text (subject to the prohibition on physically holding, supporting, or reaching for a mobile device);
  • Use a mobile device’s GPS navigation system (subject to the prohibition on physically holding, supporting, or reaching for a mobile device); or,
  • Activate or deactivate a mobile device app or feature manually by a single swipe or tap if the device 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.”

4. The Law Specifically Prohibits Watching, Recording, and Broadcasting Videos.

The foregoing exceptions do not permit drivers to watch, record, or “broadcast” (i.e., stream) videos from behind the wheel. Watching, recording, and broadcasting videos are all strictly prohibited with the exceptions that (i) drivers are permitted to view GPS navigations screens, and (ii) it is permissible to record using a dashcam or mobile device, “for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle.”

5. Violating Tennessee’s New Handheld Mobile Device Ban Is a Class C Misdemeanor.

Individuals who are ticketed for violating Tennessee’s new handheld mobile device ban can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. However, the maximum fine is only $50, and court costs will not exceed $10. The fine increases to $100 for a third or subsequent offense or for a violation resulting in an accident, and it increases to $200 for violations in active work zones and school zones when the warning flashers are in operation.

In lieu of paying a fine, drivers charged with a first-time offense under the new law will have the option to complete a driver education course authorized under Tennessee law.

6. The New Handheld Mobile Device Ban Does Not Apply to Everyone.

Tennessee’s new cell phone law does not apply to everyone. Individuals who are permitted to make handheld use of mobile devices behind the wheel include:

  • Law enforcement officers engaged in their official duties;
  • Campus police and public safety officers engaged in their official duties;
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMTs), firefighters, and emergency management agency officers engaged in their official duties; and,
  • Utility service employees and contractors acting within the scope of their employment.

The law also allows all drivers to call 911 and contact their medical providers, “if the use [of their phone] is necessitated by a bona fide emergency,” and it does not apply while a vehicle is lawfully stopped or parked.

7. Handheld and Hands-Free Device Use Take Drivers’ Minds Off of the Road.

While studies have shown that handheld device use presents more risks than hands-free calling and texting, both forms of use increase a driver’s chances of causing an accident. As the National Safety Council (NSC) explains, “Hands free is not risk free;” and, just as a person cannot talk on the phone and read a book at the same time, engaging in a hands-free call or text conversation takes the driver’s mind off of the road. Every day, more than 1,000 people are injured in distracted driving accidents, and a significant percentage of these accidents involve the hands-free operation of mobile devices.

Speak with a Car Accident Lawyer in Clarksville or Springfield, TN

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident involving a distracted driver, it is important that you speak with an attorney about your legal rights. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at Batson Nolan PLC, please call 931-650-5484 or request an appointment online today.