By Dave Ongie, News Editor
For many folks, time spent behind the wheel seems like a good opportunity to knock out a few phone calls.
Starting July 1, however, a new state law targeting distracted driving will take effect, and motorists will need to be aware of new regulations in order to avoid picking up a ticket. Back in April, Tennessee became the 19th state to put restrictions on the use of cell phones by motorists, and those in violation of the new law could face fines ranging up to $200.
Starting on July 1, you may not talk on a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle unless the phone is held in a device mounted on the dashboard. Bluetooth earpieces, headphones and devices worn on the wrist are all acceptable under the new law, but drivers cannot hold or support a cellphone with any part of their bodies. Also, dialing a number while driving is prohibited, and writing, sending or even reading text messages or any other written communication is illegal as well.
“We’re going to be watching for people who are actually holding a phone,” said Becky West, a police officer with the Johnson City Police Department. “They cannot hold a phone in their hand or support it with any part of their body, like lay it on their chest or in their lap.
“If they do answer that phone, it has to be one finger to push a button or swipe. Other than that, it’s going to be illegal to accept a phone call unless it’s using one finger.”
West said a ticket for breaking the new law will cost motorists $50 on the first or second offense and $100 for the third offense, which will also include an appearance in the Washington County General Sessions Court. The penalty for breaking the new law in active school zones or work zones will include a much stiffer penalty of $200. West said the work zones apply to any area where city employees, TDOT workers, construction crews or utility workers are present.
Under the terms of the new law, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from talking on cell phones under any circumstances. Watching movies or videos and recording or broadcasting videos will also be prohibited.
According to the Hands Free Tennessee campaign, distracted
driving led to over 24,000 crashes in the state last year. A recent study also indicated that Tennessee led the nation in deaths attributed to distracted driving between 2015 and 2017.
While the new law allows drivers some leeway to carry on cellphone conversations, West said everyone would be safer if they held the phone until the car was parked.
“To not talk on the phone is the best scenario,” West said.