Hands On Cellphone Ban to Become the Law

On May 21, 2019, Governor Lee signed into law another “save lives” and “enhance revenue for law enforcement” bill which deleted Tennessee Code Annotated §55-8-207 and amended §55-8-199 under the popular caption of “relative to highway safety”.

Like its predecessor the “seat belt law”, the General Assembly adapts another small step of providing Class C misdemeanor punishment of a fine only for a person to contribute to the financial resources of state and local law enforcement with another government protection device instead of relying upon personal responsibility.

It’s ironic that the Republican majority in the Tennessee General Assembly that advocates keeping Big Brother (more government) off the backs of Tennesseans has once again passed a law that may adversely affect innocent drivers as well as the “speculated estimated 10% of distracted driver statistics compiled by the Fiscal Review Committee of the Tennessee General Assembly”.

The latest compiled statistics in 2016 found that there were 1,732 Texting While Driving citations issued. No breakdown is reported as to how many involved were talking on a cell phone.

The effective date of the bill is July 1, 2019 so you have very little time to purchase your hands free device to talk on the phone. Whether the use of said tools will result in reduction in crashes is hopeful but still speculation. It was originally set to go in effect on January 1, 2020 but was changed to get the statute in the hands of law enforcement six months sooner.

It is anticipated that in 2020, around $524,720.00 will be collected from driving offenders to be distributed to state and local enforcement through grant requests sought from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) (Washington) and the Governors Highway Safety Administration.

Tennessee during the reporting period from 2014-2018 has received yearly federal grants ranging from a low of $14,256.628.00 (during 2016-2017) to a high of $25,371,614.00 (2013-2014), which often put the Volunteer State below the biggest grant states of California, Texas, and New York. The highest total state grants during this period was $640,161,431.85 reported in April, 2018.

The awarding of these grant amounts is dependent upon each State staying in compliance with federal regulations such as lowering the blood alcohol content level from 0.15 to eventually 0.08 and increasing the seat belt punishment from just a fine to now include a jail sentence of thirty (30) days.

The bottom line is that if the State does not adopt a statute that NHSTA approves, the State does not get the money. It is anticipated the Tennessee General Assembly will gradually increase the punishment in the Distracted While Driving Area the same way over a period of years.

The statute is attached to the bottom of this entry and is self-explanatory.

State statute provides this is a moving traffic violation. Unfortunately, it does not tell you that each violation can be used to add points that are calculated to be determined whether your driver’s license can be suspended and your insurance cost for coverage can be increased or your driving privileges suspended or revoked.

The statute imposes a $50.00 fine. If the violation is a person’s third or subsequent offense or if the violation causes an accident, the fine is $100.00. If the violation occurs in a work zone or school zone the fine is $200.00.

A private foundation has started (End Distracted Driving) to “raise awareness and generate action against the epidemic of distracted driving.” Its research suggests that 18% of fatalities in distraction related crashes are caused by cellphones. Said foundation reports that the other 82% of factors that contribute to fatal crashes are:

  • putting on makeup;
  • reaching to grab a drink;
  • changing radio music;
  • dealing with the GPS;
  • eating while driving; and
  • other distractions.

Time will tell as to whether said statute will survive a constitutional challenge.

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