Tennessee law banning handheld cellphone use while driving takes effect July 1

Tennessee
COVER PHOTO_TN House passes hands free driving bill_0418_1555625764373.JPG.jpg

A new Tennessee law that bans handheld cellphone use while driving goes into effect on July 1. 

Drivers like Murfreesboro residents Tori Bailey and Derek Howard aren’t too phased by the law and are preparing for the big changes to come.

“Just need to take that time pull over to the side and wait until you get done with that conversation to get on the road again,” Bailey told News 2’s Linda Ong. 

“Maybe people will pull over and send those messages,” Howard said.

Captain Gary Gensemer of the Murfreesboro Police Department said the new law enhances the state’s current texting and driving law.

“It is hard to tell what somebody is doing with their phone. It’s not always easy to say, ‘Oh, they were texting and driving,'” Gensemer said. “You pull them over, and they could easily say, ‘No, I was not.’ If you see them holding their phone in their hand and it’s obvious they’re using the phone, then I think we’re going to be able to take action.”

Starting July 1, drivers caught in violation of the law could face a $100 fine. The citation increases to a $200 fine if the violation results in an accident.

Gensemer said his department is working to prepare for the law to take effect — making sure officers are well-versed on the law, and the city court is ready to handle the workload of initial violations.

“What we want people to remember is that hands-free doesn’t necessarily mean risk-free. When you’re looking at your own driving behavior, this is a great step towards reducing those distractions in the car,” said Megan Cooper with AAA.

AAA estimates using a cell phone while driving, hands-free or not, raises the chance of crashing by four times.

“They’ve actually found that even once that distraction ends your brain can still stay distracted. For example, if you’re using voice to text or Siri or anything like that, once you’re done, your brain can actually stay distracted for up to 27 seconds,” added Cooper.

More than a dozen other states have implemented laws similar to Tennessee’s new law including California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

The Tennessee Highway Safety office said awareness is key, and they are making education campaigns with local police departments a major priority ahead of the transition.

“Start getting in the habit now would be my advice,” Gensemer said.

Currently in Tennessee, all cell phone using while driving is banned for teen drivers, as well as school bus drivers.

Howard agrees and said he believes in this day and age, there’s no excuse for people to be in violation.

“The technology is available in all these vehicles nowadays — use the Bluetooth — it’s available and much safer,” Howard said. “You can keep your eyes on the road and out of accidents.”

AAA has suggestions for drivers on avoiding distractions:

  • Turn off your phone or switch it to silent mode before getting in the car. If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe area.
  • Set up a message to tell callers you are driving and you’ll get back to them as soon as possible.
  • Shave or apply makeup before getting in the car.
  • Ask a passenger to make calls for you.
  • Don’t text, surf the web, or read emails while driving.
  • If you’re traveling, know the state and local laws before getting in the car.
  • Program your GPS before driving.
  • Always secure your pets before you start driving.
  • Pull over to a safe spot to address situations with your kids in the car.
  • Refrain from smoking, eating, drinking or any activity taking your hands, mind or eyes off the road.

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