SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – On July 1, a series of new laws went into effect in Tennessee, including one that can fine drivers for using their phones.
The new law goes way beyond targeting drivers for texting and driving. The “Hands Free Law” targets distracted driving by making it illegal to hold a phone at all while driving.
Tennessee is the worst state for distracted driving, according to a recent study. (READ STUDY HERE.)
The fatality rate for distracted crashes here is five times the national rate.
Drivers in Shelby County said they do see a problem with people driving while using their phones.
“I see people driving down the road like this,” Melissa Pope said, as she holds her hand over her face like a phone. “You can’t control your car like that and if you need to stop abruptly you can’t. And there’s no reason because now with talk to text and Siri and all these things you can tell your phone to text someone. You can tell your phone to call someone.”
The new law means no texting, no talking on a phone while holding it up to your ear or holding it for GPS directions. If an officer sees a driver holding their phone at all, they can be fined.
The one exception for drivers is they’re allowed to only push a button to accept or end a call. Phone calls have to be hands-free meaning it must be through the car’s radio system or an earpiece.
According to Hands Free Tennessee, in 2018 there were more than 24,000 crashes that involved a distracted driver. More than 7,700 of those were in Shelby County alone.
Statistics kept by the Tennessee Department of Safety shows Shelby County is the worst in the state when it comes to driving distracted. It nearly doubles Davidson County in crashes in recent years.
Area drivers believe the law could make the roads safer.
“It’s going to be a good thing because it’s going to stop a lot of distracted drivers and keep people having accidents on the road. A lot of people that I’ve seen swerving in the road and things like that,” Kevin Lewis, of Memphis, said.
The first offense for using a cell phone and driving would cost $50. It increases to $100 at three or more offenses or if a driver is involved in a crash. If a driver is caught doing it in an active work or school zone it would be a $200 fine.
Drivers will also get three points on their driving records for each offense.