What Tennessee Laws Say About Using Your Cellphone While Driving

Woman driver illegally texting while driving in Tennessee

Distracted driving is a common hazard on roads nationwide, but Tennessee drivers are at particular risk of being injured in these kinds of crashes. A recent study identified Tennessee as having the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the nation, suffering nearly five times the national average of collisions due to distraction. In 2018, Tennessee saw an average of sixty-seven distraction-related crashes every single day, many of them due to the use of electronic devices.

The biggest threat to driver and passenger safety is sending text messages, but talking on the phone, recording video, and surfing the internet are all deadly forms of distraction. Although talking on a cell phone while driving is legal in Tennessee, the state has strict laws to ensure the use of electronic devices takes a backseat to road safety.

Tennessee Laws Prohibiting Cell Phone Use and Electronic Distractions

The ability to stay in constant contact with friends and access the internet from a mobile device can easily pull a driver’s attention from the road—and in the two seconds it takes to send a text, a driver can cause a crash that results in life-altering or fatal injuries. The sad truth is that the vast majority of distracted driving accidents could have been prevented if drivers had waited to send their texts or emails until after they parked their vehicles.

In order to prevent crashes caused by electronic distractions, Tennessee has enacted several laws regulating cell phone use while driving, including:

  • Hands-free laws. In July 2019, the state legislature passed a law prohibiting all drivers 18 and older from holding, reaching for, or physically supporting a phone while driving. It also makes it illegal for a driver to write, send, or read text-based communications (including email), watch videos, or record videos while the vehicle is in motion. Drivers may use hands-free devices such as earpieces, headphones, or smart watches for voice-based communication.
  • Texting ban. Texting behind the wheel is one of the biggest causes of devastating and fatal accidents. Every year in the United States, approximately 500,000 people sustain serious injuries or die because of accidents caused by texting and driving. All drivers within the state of Tennessee are prohibited from texting while driving, with the exception of police officers, state officials, and emergency medical technicians.
  • Novice driver laws. New drivers, such as those who have a learner’s permit or an intermediary license, are at higher risk of causing a crash due to distracted driving. For this reason, novice drivers are prohibited from using their phones in any way while driving.
  • GPS systems. Drivers often use map applications on their phones as their in-car navigation systems. It is still legal to use a phone as a GPS system, as long as the phone or device is mounted on the vehicle's dashboard, windshield, or center console, and the driver can turn a feature on or off with a single swipe or tap.

The Consequences of Breaking Tennessee Distracted Driving Laws

Texting while driving is considered a “primary” offense in Tennessee, meaning law enforcement officers can pull you over without having to witness any other violation if they see you texting. In addition, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security has stated that the District Attorney’s Office has the authority to check phone records if distracted driving is suspected after a serious injury or fatal crash.

Penalties for violating cell phone distraction laws include:

  • Class C misdemeanor charges
  • A ticket up to $50 for the first violation, $100 for third and over violations or a violation involving an accident, or $200 for violations in work zones or school zones
  • 3 demerit points on a person’s driving record for each violation
  • The inability to apply for an intermediate or unrestricted driver’s license for an extra 90 days after eligibility date

If you were hurt in an auto accident caused by a driver who was texting while driving, you may be eligible to receive financial compensation. Our lawyers serve injury clients on a contingent fee basis, meaning we do not collect anything unless we secure a recovery for you. To set up a free initial consultation, simply fill out the short contact form on this page. For more information, you can also request a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.