Tennessee’s ban on using hand-held devices while driving went into effect on July 1, 2019. Under PCO412, it is now illegal for drivers to:
- Hold a phone in any way
- Read, write, and/or send text messages
- Watch videos or movies on a device
- “Reach for a cellphone or mobile device in a manner that requires the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a seat belt”
- Record or broadcast themselves while behind the wheel
(You can access the full Act here)
The new laws apply to drivers aged 18 years and older, because Tennessee has never allowed drivers under 18 to use their phones while driving. The law still allows for hands-free use, however, and does not prohibit drivers from using their GPS units while driving. The law also exempts emergency services personnel who use the phone during the course of their duties, and allows for the use of hand-held devices for drivers sitting in legally parked or stopped cars.
Why did Tennessee pass this law?
Many states have problems with distracted driving, but Tennessee’s problem has devolved into a crisis. In 2018, there were 24,610 distracted driving-related crashes in the state; 1,376 were in Hamilton County. A study done by Value Penguin found that Tennessee had the worst record in the country for fatal distracted driving crashes – about 5x higher than the national average.
The penalties for breaking the law
If you break the new law and use your hand-held device while driving, you will be issued a citation for a moving traffic violation. The fines include:
- $50 for a first-time offense
- $100 for third and subsequent offenses
- $100 for an offense which leads to a crash
- $200 for violations in work zones where workers are present, and in school zones where flashers are in operation
The violations are considered Class C misdemeanors, and each offense will add 3 points to your license. If you accumulate 12 points, you could have your license suspended.
What happens if I am hit by a distracted driver?
The new laws should help curb hand-held device use, but you cannot control other people’s actions. If you are struck by a distracted driver while in your car, on a bicycle, walking through town, or in any other scenario, you can make a claim for compensation for:
- Your medical expenses, including hospital bills, medication costs, pay for home health aides, and the expense of any therapies you may need
- Your lost wages from your recovery time
- Any loss of future income if you are unable to return to your work
- Property damage and loss, such as towing expenses, rental fees, and repair costs for your vehicle
- Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering
If your loved one is struck and killed in a collision with a distracted driver, you may be able to claim funeral and burial expenses by filing a wrongful death suit. In some cases, you may also be entitled to punitive damages – compensation designed to punish the other entity for extreme recklessness or wrongdoing, and to prevent such behavior from occurring again.
In most scenarios, you only have one year to file a car accident claim in Tennessee, so it is important that you seek legal counsel quickly. Wagner & Wagner has been the Chattanooga injury law firm you have known and trusted for decades. If you or your loved one is hurt by a distracted driver, we want to help. Please contact us or call us at 423.799.3532. We serve clients in Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, in North Georgia, and all the surrounding counties.