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Two New Laws For Tennessee Drivers Target Distracted … and Distracting Driving

May 04 2018 | Blog
  • Tennessee Legislature enacted 16 new laws effective January 2018, two of which target distracted driving. The issue has been of significant concern to the state which saw 24,777 distracted driving accidents in 2017 alone, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.  At least 81 of those accidents were fatal.

    On a nationwide scale, consider that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that every day nine people are killed, and more than 1,000 are injured due to distracted driving.

     

    Now Illegal to Use A Cellphone in School Zones

    A study by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a nonprofit that encourages kids walking or biking to school, found that 23,000 children between the ages of 5-15 were injured and 250 were killed while walking or bicycling to school. They also found that children were struck by vehicles near schools more than in any other location.

    “Be alert; children often are unpredictable, and they tend to ignore hazards and take risks,” said the National Safety Council, commenting on the same study.

    The new law in Tennessee specifically targets school zones as places that are off limits for cellphone use, and that doesn’t just mean texting.

    “If you are holding a phone up to your ear while driving in a school zone, it’s illegal,” said Dickson police officer Jeremy Wall to the Tennessean newspaper. “When someone has the phone to their ear talking, they are so engrossed in that conversation…they are looking left, they are looking right. And the whole time I am standing there motioning for them to come out.”

    Tennessee does not have a hands-free law on the books, except for a law that says that drivers under 18 may not use a hands-free or handheld device while driving. For drivers over 18, the new law stipulates that they may use a device while traveling within a school zone only if it hands-free. Bus drivers are not allowed to use a phone in any way while on the job, except in emergencies. This requirement dates back to the distracted driving laws enacted in 2009.

    Texting while driving is illegal. This includes composing, sending, or reading text messages and carries a $60 fine. Distracted driving which includes changing the radio station or interacting with a GPS can be considered “lack of due care” and can result in a $150 fine.

    The new school zone law is punishable as a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $50.

     

    New Headlights Laws

    While distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths, Tennessee also seeks to stop people from distracting others.

    Beginning in 2018, it is illegal for vehicles to have headlights that are any other color than white or amber. Vehicles must also have at least two lights, and not more than four.  

    Colored lights have become more and more popular with a Chattanooga installer AllStar Tint & Alarms in Chattanooga telling ABC affiliate WTVC NewsChannel 9 that they had been installing “5 to 10 sets a week.”

    However, law enforcement says the colored lights had been causing confusion and distraction. Red and blue lights have been exclusively used for law enforcement vehicles and first responders, but purple, blue, yellow, and green have been popping up on civilian vehicles.

    “Red and blue people know. If they see purple they think do we stop, who is that, or if they see a flashing green they get a little mixed up,” Signal Mountain Police Detective Jim Tizzio told NBC affiliate WRCB-TV out of Chattanooga.

    Lt. Austin Garret of the Chattanooga Police department posted some examples on his public twitter feed.

    “You drive up the road, you’ll see them during the daytime and at night. People have them on as a decoration,” Garret said.

    The lights are not street-legal but are allowed if installed on a stationary vehicle, such as a decorative classic-car installation at a drive-in. The new restrictions also apply whether the colored lights are steady burning or flashing.

    It should be noted the “blue” lights do not refer to factory-installed blue headlights known as HID (high-intensity discharge) headlights but only to aftermarket colored lights.

     

    Distracted Driving and Liability

    Aside from the apparent danger of being distracted or causing a distraction to other drivers, the broader implication of both of these laws is that failure to obey them could cause a person to become guilty of causing an accident, an injury, or a death. Criminal charges against such actions are often instrumental in proving liability in a personal injury or property damage claim. Be safe and focused in 2018.

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