Tennessee motorists accustomed to holding a cell phone to their ear while driving can expect to save at least $50 by reading this news story and putting down their device.
As of July 1, a state law goes into effect banning hand-held cell phone use while driving. However, hands-free or Bluetooth calls are still permitted.
“Putting down the cell phone and being more attentive can only help increase the safety of everyone on the roadways,” said Savannah Police Chief Michael Pitts.
A first-time offender faces a $50 fine. That rises to $100 for third and subsequent offenses, or if the violation results in a crash. A $200 fine results if the violation occurs in a work zone while workers are present, or if in a marked school zone while flashers are in operation.
According to the Tennessee Department of Safety, in 2018 there were over 24,600 crashes involving a distracted driver in Tennessee.
On average, that’s 67 crashes every day. A recent study listed Tennessee as having the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the nation – nearly five times the national average.
In 2018, the Savannah Police Department investigated 480 traffic crashes within the city limits of Savannah. Of those crashes, 74 were determined to be the result of distracted driving, or roughly 15% of the total traffic crashes.
Pitts said, “It is our hope that this new law and its subsequent enforcement by officers on the street will lower that statistic. However, you cannot legislate safety. It starts with the drivers on the roadway making a commitment to drive safely for not only themselves but also the other drivers on the road.”
The state Safety Department reports that in Hardin County, from 2009 through March of this year, there have been 482 crashes in which distracted driving was a factor, or nearly 1.5 crashes per 1,000 population, for a ranking of 63rd out of 95 counties in the state.
Specifically, the new law makes it illegal for drivers to:
•hold a cellphone or mobile device with any part of their body;
•write, send, or read any text-based communication;
•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;
•watch a video or movie on a cellphone or mobile device, and
•record or broadcast video on a cellphone or mobile device.
A driver is permitted to use an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on a wrist to conduct voice-based communication.
The driver may use one button on a cell phone or mobile device to start or end voice communication. Voice-based communication may also be used to send a text message.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the June 20 print edition. You can help support community journalism by subscribing online by clicking the “Subscribe” button at the top of this page, or calling The Courier at 731-925-6397 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thanks for reading!