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Three New Laws That Affect Tennessee Drivers in 2018

April 20 2018 | Blog
  • Thanks to Tennessee State Legislature, Tennessee roads may look very different this year. The State Legislature has enacted 16 new laws effective January 1, 2018 – three of which affect drivers. Over the next three weeks, our blogs will look at the impact that these new laws will have on drivers in the state, and at how they may affect personal injury cases going forward. 

    The three laws are:

    1. It is now illegal to use a handheld phone while in school zones for texting, talking, or any other use.
    2. It is now illegal to have headlights of any other color than white or amber – regardless if they are steady lights or flashing lights.
    3. Autonomous Vehicles are permitted on the road without a driver, and a fully functional automated vehicle would be considered a “person” by legislation


    Distracted Driving

    The first two – cellphone use in school zones and headlights – were targeted as part of the state’s continued work against distracted driving. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security says that there were 24,777 distracted driving accidents in 2017. They defined “distracted driving” as driving while inattentive, texting, using a cellular device,  GPS device, computer, navigation system or another electronic device, or distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle other than driving.

    At least 81 of those accidents were fatal.

    During a recent distracted-driving crackdown, law enforcement officials told WSMV, a Nashville-based NBC affiliate, that distracted driving includes “anything that takes your eyes off the road including messaging with your GPS, changing the radio station, even eating.”


    Automated Cars in Tennessee

    Vehicles with “self-driving” capabilities are not new to the State, as Tennessee has been a supporter of automated vehicle legislation. Currently, there are no vehicles on the road that could accurately be called “self-driving”, though some do have automated driving capabilities.

    “Every vehicle currently for sale in the United States requires the full attention of the driver at all times for safe operation,” says the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

    That being said, the technology is getting close. Tesla has an Autopilot feature that allows the vehicle to take over while a driver is in the car.  The 2018 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise enables drivers reportedly take their hands off the wheel and their feet off the pedals.

    The “Autonomous Vehicles Act” was enacted by the January 2018 Public Chapter 474. This new law sets out regulations for automated vehicles. A key term that has grabbed headlines is “automated driving system” (ADS), a technology that allows a vehicle to drive in “high or full automation mode, without any supervision by a human operator.” Additionally, the law lays out that a vehicle equipped with an ADS is authorized on state roads without a human driver physically present in the vehicle under certain conditions.

    When the NHTSA says that “94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error”, the potential for saving lives with this evolving technology is immense.

    “When you consider more than 35,092 people died in motor vehicle-related crashes in the U.S. in 2015, you begin to grasp the lifesaving benefits of driver assistance technologies,” the NHTSA said. “The Department of Transportation is committed to supporting the innovators who are developing these types of vehicles to ensure their safe testing and deployment before they are available to consumers.”

    The following blogs will dive into the everyday impact of these three new laws, as well as how they might affect personal injury law:

    • New Laws for TN Drivers Target Distracted Driving 

    • Autonomous Cars in TN Without Human Drivers Present

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