Distracted Driving in Tennessee on the Rise
Eight years ago, the Tennessee State Legislature made it illegal to text and drive on Tennessee roads. But the law—codified in TN Code section 55-8-199—hasn’t reduced the number of distracted driving crashes in the Volunteer State.
In fact, the number of distracted driving accidents has risen almost every year since the texting and driving prohibition was implemented, and in 2016, a record 24,743 crashes in Tennessee involved a distracted driver.
Check out our infographic to see more about the state of distracted driving in Tennessee:
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While distracted driving—defined by the Tennessee Highway Safety Office as “any activity that [can] divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving”—includes everything from using a GPS to eating or grooming, texting is generally considered to be the worst of all distractions. “That is because text messaging requires visual, manual, and [emphasis added] cognitive attention from [a] driver,” advises the Safety Office.
In fact, Tennessee is third-worst in the nation when it comes to cell phone distracted driving, “with 44% of drives containing at least one distracted driving event,” according to EverQuote.com’s Safe Driving Report 2016-2017, which was compiled with the help of its EverDrive™ smartphone app.
Moreover, as horrifying as the numbers are, it’s possible that the statistics underrepresent the severity of the problem. For one, the number of distracted driving accidents—a statistic compiled by the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security—doesn’t include parking lot or private property car crashes, not to mention crashes with less than $400 in damage.
More importantly, in its “Crashes Involving Cell Phones” white paper, the National Safety Council (NSC) notes that accident reports don’t always reflect drivers’ cell phone use, thanks to a variety of challenges that exist when attempting to verify that cell or smartphone usage was a factor in an accident.
The Challenges of Reporting Fully Representative Distracted Driver Data
One of the primary challenges is that “police must often rely on drivers to admit to cell phone use. This is not possible when drivers are not forthcoming or are seriously injured or deceased,” offers the NSC white paper. Furthermore, “witness memories and statements may be inaccurate” and “police may not fully investigate cell phone use if it’s not a violation in their jurisdiction.”
Or, if cell phone use is identified as a contributing factor during a subsequent police investigation or court case, the crash report(s) may not be updated. It can also be a challenge to obtain cell phone records from wireless companies, and even if records are obtained, the “data must align with the precise moment of [a] crash—a moment which is not always known,” asserts the NSC.
Last but not least, in many distracted driving crashes, cell or smartphone use—including texting—may lead to another more easily identifiable violation. For instance, “Failure to Keep in Proper Lane” may be recorded on a police report as the cause of an accident, even though the lane violation occurred because the driver was texting.
Know the Tennessee Texting and Driving Law
One key to reducing the number of distracted driving accidents is educating drivers and passengers about the dangers of texting and driving. Of course, it helps to know the law, which prescribes—in section 55-8-199(b)—that “No person while driving a motor vehicle on any public road or highway shall use a hand-held mobile telephone or a hand-held personal digital assistant to transmit or read a written message” while the vehicle is in motion.
The penalty for a violation is a Class C misdemeanor, “subject only to imposition of a fine not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00) and court costs not to exceed ten dollars ($10.00).” As per section 55-8-199(d)(2), “in addition to any fine imposed … a person who violates this section as a first offense shall be required to attend and complete a driver education course….”
Know too that law enforcement has also started citing drivers under section 55-8-136 of the Tennessee Code, which requires that “every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care … by devoting full time and attention to operating the vehicle, under the existing circumstances as necessary in order to be able to see and to avoid endangering life, limb or property and to see and avoid colliding with any other vehicle or person….” (The reason for invoking this much older law is that it provides for potentially more significant penalties than the 2009 statute.)
Continuing Education and Enforcement of Tennessee’s Texting and Driving Law
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Highway Safety Office is in the midst of an ongoing effort to educate Tennesseans about distracted driving, a campaign it promotes on social media via the hashtag #ThumbsDownTN. At the same time, law enforcement is stepping up its efforts to enforce the law. For example, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is now using a marked bus that carries troopers and Metro Nashville Police officers, who identify drivers who are texting and driving and relay that information to teams on the road, who pull over offenders.
We created a Stop Texting and Driving Video Scholarship Contest to raise awareness about the issue and encourage people to end this behavior. If you or someone you know is eligible to enter the contest, I would encourage you to do so.
To learn more about distracted driving in Tennessee, visit Raybin & Weissman’s distracted driving page. And if you or a family member has been injured in a distracted driving accident in the Nashville area, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Raybin & Weissman.