(Karys Shimek, JonLuc Taylor and Major Prince take their turns at driving the simulator. For this session, students heard the phone ring just as a deer entered from the left, and a bus came around the curve in their lane.)
According to a 2019 study by Value Penguin and Lending Tree, Tennessee led the nation in distracted driving deaths between 2015-2017. “With 7.2 such deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles, Tennessee’s death rate from distracted driving was almost 5 times higher than the national average, which was approximately 1.49 deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles.”(Source: Lending Tree)
In 2018 alone, Tennessee recorded a total of 24,600 auto accidents involving distracted drivers. That’s an average of 67 crashes every day. Numbers continue to climb, despite the fact that Tennessee already has laws meant to prevent distracted driving. Texting while driving and the use of handheld devices while driving through school zones have been banned. In addition, any driver in Tennessee holding a learner’s permit or intermediate license is banned from any cell phone use.
In an effort to protect people and property across the state, Tennessee’s “Hands-Free Law” was enacted in 2019. It is illegal for a driver to hold a cell phone or other device with any part of their body. Writing, sending and reading text messages is against the law, as is watching videos on any mobile device. Drivers also aren’t allowed to broadcast or record videos on a mobile device while they’re behind the wheel.
It’s now unlawful for a driver to reach for a cell phone or other mobile device if doing so requires them to leave a seated driving position or unfasten their seat belt.
Despite the law, drivers are still permitted to use GPS to assist with navigation. It’s recommended that the mobile device be securely mounted to the windshield, center console or dashboard. Drivers are allowed to use a single tap or swipe to turn off a feature.
This distracted driving law means that the only way to use a cell phone or other mobile device while behind the wheel is with hands-free or voice-to-text technology. The only time that drivers are exempt from the hands-free law is when they are communicating with police or related authorities during an emergency.
Violation of the law is considered a primary offense. This means that police may pull over and cite a driver whose only infraction is driving while distracted. The district attorney has the authority to pull a driver’s cell phone records after an accident if law enforcement believes the driver was distracted at the time of the crash.
Anyone who is cited for violating the law faces Class C misdemeanor charges. First and second tickets for this violation cost a maximum of $50, but if a driver is charged with three or more offenses, then the ticket may run as high as $100.
Similarly, a $100 ticket is issued for distracted driving that results in an accident. People who are distracted while driving through school zones or work zones face a $200 ticket.
The penalties don’t end there.
Each violation of this law adds 3 demerit points to the driver’s record. Any Tennessee driver who accumulates more than 12 demerit points within a 12-month period may receive a notice of proposed suspension. This notice triggers an administrative hearing. Drivers who fail to request a hearing will automatically have their driving privileges suspended for 6 to 12 months.
Additionally, people who hold a learner’s permit or an intermediate license will find themselves waiting an extra 90 days to upgrade their driving privileges.
Research shows that teen drivers are over 50 percent more likely to crash in the first month of driving. Every day, motor vehicle crashes end more teen lives than cancer, homicide and suicide combined (Source: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety). Tennessee ranks sixth in the nation for the number of fatal car crashes involving teens, according to an Allstate Insurance study.
The “Teens and Trucks Share the Road” program is a safety presentation sponsored locally by the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
On April 7, students in the Criminal Justice and Driver’s Education classes were able to drive simulators provided by the THP. Students sat at a state-of-the-art console that simulates driving, complete with sounds and motion seating. Coaches Steve Ray and Wes Johnson invited Trooper Steve Long on campus to present the students this opportunity to see the dangers of distracted driving first hand.