Disagreement over whether Memphis can enforce the state hands-free driving law

Local News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – This is a story about nothing. Absolutely nothing happened.

But Memphis City Council members talked a lot about it. They sure did.

This was going to be the day the City Council was going to start the process to establish an ordinance making it was illegal for drivers to text or hold a phone while talking.

Sure, the Tennessee State law went into effect in July, but Memphis Police haven’t been enforcing it.

According to Deputy Chief Don Crowe with Memphis Police, “There is no city ordinance to write the ticket for.”

Deputy Chief Crowe says without a city ordinance, there can’t be any tickets, or fines.

Now that doesn’t mean cops are looking the other way when they see somebody texting away while behind the wheel.

“They have been encouraged to make traffic stops,” Deputy Chief Crowe says, “… because it’s a violation of state law. We absolutely make traffic stops for that. But at the conclusion of that traffic stop, we have instructed our officers to either give them a verbal warning or a written warning.”

It’s sort like having an officer rap you on your knuckles and say, “… don’t do this again.”

It’s not much.

And Memphis City Council lawyer Allan Wade says to top it all off, he thinks police are wrong.

“Cell phone hands free and cell phone usage while driving is a big, big problem,” Wade says, “… and I think that’s what the focus should be on. And if that’s the major focus, let’s get busy, and if people want to challenge it, we know how to defend it.”

He says the cops should start writing tickets.

And that is a recipe for confusion.

“I think we do not have a precise understanding of what’s going on,” says Memphis City Council member Jamita Swearingen.  “The police shared they don’t write tickets.”

They will come back in two weeks and talk about it, and maybe then, something will happen.

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