A new state law took effect July 1, 2019, that requires drivers to put down their phones and focus on the road. The goal of the new law is to eliminate, or otherwise reduce, the number of driving-related fatalities and injuries.
The Hands Free Law, also known as Public Chapter No. 412, makes it illegal for a driver to hold a cellphone or mobile device with any part of their body. This includes writing, sending or reading any text-based communication, watching a video, recording or broadcasting video on a mobile device.
Drivers also cannot reach for a cellphone or mobile device in a way that causes them to no longer be seated in a driving position or to be properly restrained by a seat belt.
The law permits drivers to use an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on the wrist to conduct voice-based communication.
According to handsfreetn.com, there were more than 24,600 crashes in 2018 involving a distracted driver in Tennessee. A study by ValuePenguin also listed Tennessee as having the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the country, nearly five times that of the national average.
Numbers released by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security show that Wilson County ranked 12th in counties with the most distracted driver traffic crashes from 2009-2019, with a total of 4,666. Shelby County tops the list at 56,176 distracted driver traffic crashes from 2009-2019. Davidson County comes in second with 22,630.
Violation of the new Hands Free Law can result in a traffic citation and fines. The fines increase with the number of citations issued per person as well as if the violation occurs in a work or school zone or if the violation results in a vehicle crash.
In the case of an emergency, drivers are permitted to use a device to communicate with law enforcement agencies, medical providers, fire departments or other emergency service agencies.
“As an agency, we’re going to be monitoring and enforcing this law,” said Mt. Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick. “This not only applies to our citizens and our public, but to our officers as well. We know that this law does allow for limited use for law enforcement agencies, but we hold our officers to a standard. It’s still dangerous even for police officers to text anything while driving, so we’ll be holding our officers accountable as well. Most importantly, we want to keep our citizens and visitors, motorists and pedestrians, as safe as possible.”
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security partnered with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development to launch Hands Free Tennessee, a campaign to educate drivers about the state’s new Hands Free Law. Learn more about the new law at handsfreetn.com.