In today’s world, texting has replaced talking on the phone, especially among young people. However, this trend becomes extremely dangerous when it happens behind the steering wheel. Texting while driving seems completely harmless until the distraction causes a car accident.
Studies have shown that texting while driving is even more dangerous than driving drunk, which is incredibly sobering. And, according to the Institute for Highway Safety’s statistics, texting while driving is responsible for 11 teenage deaths every day.
As a result of this growing trend, lawmakers across this country have reacted by writing laws to specifically address the issue. In fact, Tennessee is one of 41 states that have laws against texting while driving.
What possible crimes do you face in Tennessee when texting while driving?
1. Text Messaging while operating a motor vehicle
In July 2009, it became illegal to text and drive in Tennessee. This law makes it a class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $50.00. To be guilty of the offense, one must read or transmit a text message while the vehicle is in motion. In other words, it is not illegal to text while stopped at a red light, but it is illegal to text while your car is moving.
The law does not prohibit using your cell phone to make a phone call, using GPS or the MP3 functions of your phone. The law is limited to sending and receiving text messages while your car is in motion.
Although I strongly discourage texting while driving, this law seems incredibly difficult for police officers to enforce as an officer would need to physically witness a person texting while their car is in motion. In fact, Tennessee state troopers average only about 24 citations a month.
2. Reckless Driving
Long before text messaging existed, Tennessee drivers faced the possibility of going to jail for six months for reckless driving. Reckless driving consists of “driving any vehicle in willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
You might expect to face a reckless driving charge if an officer witnesses you swerving along the highway with your eyes on your phone. An officer would not need to witness you actually texting nor would the state be required to prove you were texting under this law. Driving in an irresponsible manner – no matter what the cause – could lead to a reckless driving charge.
3. Reckless Endangerment
If an accident occurs where a driver nearly strikes another person or a car, the individual could face a felony charge of reckless endangerment. Reckless endangerment occurs when someone recklessly engages in contact that places or may place another person in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. Any kind of distracted driving – including texting while driving – could lead to this type of charge if a wreck occurs.
4. Criminally Negligent Homicide
If a fatality occurs as part of a motor vehicle collision, you could be charged with criminally negligent homicide. This is the most serious charge that could occur as a result of texting while driving.
One should expect that after a motor vehicle collision, police officers are going to be reviewing drivers’ phone records to determine if text messages were being received or transmitted in the moments prior to the accident. Although many states have enacted laws to specifically address vehicular homicide cases that were a product of texting while driving, Tennessee has no specific law. Drivers may expect to face felony charges of criminally negligent homicide or vehicular homicide.
There have been a number of cases where drivers aged 18-20 have faced a prison sentence for vehicular homicide where texting was believed to have been to blame. Here are some examples:
- Massachusetts Teen Sentenced to Prison for Homicide While Texting and Driving
- 19 year old Charged in Homicide in NYC Believed to Have Been Texting when She Struck and Killed Deliveryman on Scooter
The message is clear that you should not text and drive as the consequences can be incredibly serious. Not only can it lead to jail time, but also, texting while driving could be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
If you are involved in a vehicle accident and fear that you may be charged with a criminal act, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney.