Tennessee Distracted Driving Laws & Car Accidents

Tennessee distracted driving

Distracted driving is as dangerous (if not more so) than driving drunk

Distracted driving is about more than cell phones. Learn how to spot a distracted driver, avoid getting distracted yourself, and find out what to do if you’re in a distracted driving car accident.
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There were nearly 23,700 distracted driving crashes in Tennessee in 2019.

That’s an average of 65 crashes each day.

And that’s only the number of reported distracted driving accidents... many are never reported as being related to distracted driving. The actual number could be much higher.

Facing factsIn a study of traffic fatalities, Tennessee had nearly 5 times as many distracted driving deaths from 2015 to 2017 as the national average. The national average was 1.49 fatalities for every 10 billion vehicle miles. Tennessee had 7.2 distracted driving fatalities for every 10 billion vehicle miles.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is any action that involves one of these 3 criteria:

  1. Anything that takes your eyes off the road (visual distraction)
  2. Anything that takes your hands off the wheel (manual distraction)
  3. Anything that takes your mind’s focus off the task of driving (cognitive distraction)

Using a cell phone while driving is certainly one of the biggest distractions, but there are others, too. Other typical distractions include:

  • Eating
  • Reading directions or maps
  • Using any electronic device
  • Passengers
  • Observing something outside the vehicle
  • Personal grooming (for example, shaving, hair brushing or applying makeup)
  • Using dashboard controls

Using a cell phone while driving

You might be the type of person who would never dream of getting behind the wheel of a car after you’ve been drinking — as you should be! But lots of people who follow laws, usually drive safely, and are generally careful individuals often can’t resist sneaking a peek at their phone when a text pings or the ringer sounds.

Why do we do this?

Some experts have said that smartphones can be addictive, and that our brains instinctively respond to notifications of texts, calls, or social media updates.

But I would know if I had a smartphone addiction, right?

Not necessarily. When you hear the sound of an incoming text, your brain gets a hit of the chemical dopamine, which causes an energized feeling with the expectation of a reward... the reward being that you’ll find out who’s texting you or who tagged you on a social post.

At the same time, the part of your brain that’s activated will shut down the prefrontal cortex, which is where reasoning and judgment happens. So, together, that’s a bad combination when it comes to cell phones and driving.

Car and Driver performed a test to see how drivers’ reaction times were impacted by texting and driving, compared to drunk driving.

To perform the test, the car was fitted with a light mounted on the windshield that would simulate a car’s brake lights. The drivers were instructed to hit the brakes when the light went on. The test took place on an open runway with no obstacles, and the drivers were using typical phones.

The test results showed that the drivers (one age 22, one age 37) were as slow or slower to react when reading or writing a text message than when they were impaired by alcohol.

Put the phone away!

What’s the best way to avoid temptation when it comes to driving and cell phone use?

Put it away!

When you get behind the wheel, store your phone someplace where you can’t reach it (or won’t be tempted to) and turn off audible notifications. Keep it in your handbag, in the trunk, or somewhere else where you know it’s not possible to look at it or touch it. Silence notifications so your brain doesn’t focus on that unread text rather than on driving.

If you’re really concerned that someone is eager to hear back from you after they send a message, there are automated settings in your phone that you can program so an auto-reply lets the sender know that you’re driving and can’t respond immediately.

Many major highways have “texting spots” that are designated pull-off areas where you can take a break from driving and check your messages. You can also pull into a parking lot, parking spot, or other areas off the road any time you need to use your phone.

Tennessee’s Hands-Free Law

The Tennessee Hands-Free Law (PCO412) makes it illegal for a driver to engage in any of the following actions while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle:

  • Hold a mobile device with their hands or any other part of their body
  • Write, send, or read any communication on a mobile phone
  • Reach for a mobile phone or another device in such a way that requires the driver to no longer be sitting up straight in driving position or properly using a seat belt
  • Watch a movie or video on any mobile device
  • Record or broadcast video on a mobile device

Hands-Free Tennessee law penalties

A violation of Tennessee’s mobile phone law is a Class C misdemeanor and considered a moving traffic violation. If you’re found guilty of breaking this law, the penalties are:

  • $50 fine for a 1st and 2nd offense
  • $100 fine for 3rd offense or more, or if the violation causes a crash
  • $200 fine if the violation is in a work zone and workers are present or in a marked school zone with flashers in operation
  • 3 points on your license for each violation (your license is suspended if you have 12 points)

The only exceptions are:

  • Law enforcement, campus police, or public safety officers while performing official duties
  • Emergency responders including firefighters, medical technicians, paramedics, and emergency management agency personnel while performing official duties
  • A person using a mobile device to communicate with law enforcement, emergency medical responders, fire departments, or other emergency services during an emergency situation
  • Employees or contractors of utility services acting within the scope of their employment
  • A person lawfully stopped or parked in their vehicle or who has left their vehicle lawfully standing
Enjuris tip: The law allows a driver to use their phone hands-free. You may use an earpiece, headphone, or wrist device for voice-based communication. You can use 1 button to initiate or terminate a call and you are allowed to use voice commands to send text messages.

10 tips to avoid distracted driving

The key to understanding distracted driving is realizing that it’s preventable. Nobody is a perfect driver. Sometimes a distraction can be simply getting lost in your own thoughts. For instance, have you ever arrived at your destination and realized that you don’t really remember driving there?

That sense of driving on autopilot happens to everyone from time to time, but it’s crucial that you consciously avoid certain types of distractions by following these simple tips:

  1. Put your phone out of reach or out of sight. If you need to use it for GPS, mount it to the dashboard so you can see the map without taking your eyes off the road. Turn off other notifications so that you’re not seeing other banners or pop-up notifications on the map while driving.
  2. Silence your phone before getting in the car.
  3. It’s not just about texting — don’t use any apps or social media while driving.
  4. Keep your music or other listening content at a low enough volume that you can hear sounds outside the car.
  5. Don’t text or call someone if you know they’re likely to be driving.
  6. Don’t eat or drink while driving.
  7. If you listen to music or podcasts from your phone while driving, queue your selections before you start driving so you don’t have to touch your phone while behind the wheel.
  8. Don’t allow your passengers to be a distraction. Keep pets in a carrier.
  9. If you drop something on the floor of the car, either leave it there until you’ve reached your destination or pull over to retrieve it.
  10. Regardless of what’s happening outside the car, don’t use your phone to take videos while driving. If you feel like recording traffic is useful, purchase a separate dashcam that can record without driver intervention.

What to do after a distracted driving accident

First, make sure to obtain medical help for anyone who needs it.

Second, take note of any evidence that the crash was related to distracted driving. This can be very difficult to prove, and your legal recovery might depend on it. It’s hard to know exactly what the other driver was doing upon impact since, presumably, you weren’t looking right at them at the time of the accident.

If you end up filing a lawsuit, your lawyer can request the other driver’s phone records during the discovery process. If you can provide proof that a text was sent or read, or a phone call made or answered immediately before the accident occurred, that might be compelling proof that the driver was distracted.

Sometimes, the driver will unwittingly admit to being distracted. For example, they might say to the police officer on the scene, “I was driving carefully! I just reached over to grab my coffee!” It seems like a harmless statement, but it could be a game-changer in a personal injury lawsuit that relies on negligence.

Important evidence can include photos at the scene, witness accounts, or other information discovered by accident investigators or police officers. Always get a police report after any collision, no matter how small.

In Tennessee, the at-fault driver’s insurance is responsible for paying for damages for the accident. If a lawsuit is filed, each driver is assigned a percentage of fault. A driver who was more than 50% at fault cannot recover any damages for the accident.

Therefore, establishing fault (liability) for an accident is crucial if you’re going to want to recover damages.

Recovering damages after a distracted driving accident

After a car accident, an injured plaintiff can recover damages to cover the costs of their injuries. This can include:

An insurance settlement should fully cover your medical treatment, lost wages and property loss. If you believe that you’re entitled to additional damages for emotional distress or punitive damages, you’ll need to file a lawsuit.

Find a Tennessee car accident lawyer near you

If you’ve been injured in an accident, an experienced attorney can help you recover what you deserve in damages. Even if the claim can be settled by the insurance company without a lawsuit, the right lawyer is an experienced negotiator who will make sure that you’re getting the full amount you’re entitled to receive.

And, lawyers can help both ways... whether you were the distracted driver or you weren’t. Enjuris’ Tennessee law firm directory can help you find an experienced, skilled, compassionate lawyer who will work with you to resolve a distracted driving claim, regardless of which side you’re on.


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