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What is the Tennessee Hands-Free Law?

Woman driving car and talking on mobile phone while holding it in front of her.

Distracted driving is a significant threat to road users

The rise of smartphones and other portable electronic devices has had an unfortunate unintended consequence: a significant uptick in car accidents caused by distracted driving. When motorists don’t give their full attention to the road, the consequences can be deadly. Distracted drivers can rear-end other vehicles, drift into the oncoming lane, and run over vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. We’re participating in Distracted Driving Awareness Month because we’ve seen the devastation caused by distracted drivers over and over again.

As with any new technology, the law has taken some time to catch up. Tennessee’s “Hands-Free” law, which went into effect in 2019, is an important step in the right direction. However, not all forms of distracted driving are covered by the law, so just because motorists comply with the law doesn’t mean they are safe and responsible. That’s why accountability for distracted driving wrecks is so important.

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    What is distracted driving?

    Broadly speaking, distracted driving is anything that takes a driver’s attention off the road. There are three general categories of distractions behind the wheel:

    • Visual distraction: anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road.
    • Manual distraction: anything that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel.
    • Cognitive distraction: anything that takes a driver’s mind off the task of safely operating their vehicle.

    It’s easy to see why smartphone use is so distracting: it falls into all three categories. Holding a phone takes at least one hand off the wheel (manual distraction), and reading or composing messages takes the eyes off the road (visual distraction). Furthermore, talking on a phone or sending and receiving messages using a phone takes the driver’s mind off the task of driving (cognitive distraction).

    That’s why many states, including Tennessee, have laws specifically prohibiting handheld cell phone use.

    What the Tennessee hands-free law requires

    Under the Tennessee hands-free law, it is illegal for a driver to:

    • Hold a cellphone or other mobile device with any part of the body – this makes “hands-free” a bit of a misnomer since it’s just as illegal to hold your phone, for instance, between your head and shoulder,
    • Write, send, or read any text-based communication while driving,
    • Reach for a cellphone or mobile device in a manner that takes them out of a seated driving position,
    • Watch a movie or video on a mobile device, or
    • Record or broadcast video on a mobile device while driving (note that this does not apply to dashcams and similar continuous video recording devices).

    The hands-free law has exceptions for law enforcement, emergency personnel, and similar officials, as well as drivers communicating with those services in true emergency situations. Otherwise, your vehicle needs to be lawfully stopped or parked before you can legally use an electronic device.

    Remember, hands-free is not risk-free

    Under the Tennessee law, it’s legal to talk on a cellphone or otherwise use a mobile device for purposes that don’t involve video (such as streaming music), as long as you use a headset or similar hands-free technology. But it’s important to remember that while hands-free devices can mitigate the manual and visual distractions that come with cellphone use, they do not eliminate cognitive distraction. In other words, even if your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road, your mind is still distracted, and that can lead to serious accidents.

    If you must use a mobile device while driving—for instance, to send or read an urgent message—then the best practice is to find a safe place to park or pull over, send or read your message, and take a minute to allow your mind to re-focus before you pull back into the road. If it’s not important enough to stop, then it can wait until you arrive at your destination.

    If you’ve been hit by a distracted driver, our law firm can help

    Distracted driving is serious business. People are severely injured in distracted driving wrecks every day. Even if the driver who hit you didn’t violate a specific law like the hands-free law, they didn’t meet their general legal responsibility to operate their vehicle in a safe manner. That means they can be held accountable through the civil justice system.

    If you were hit by a distracted driver in Middle Tennessee, you need to take immediate legal action to protect your rights. Contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today for a free, confidential consultation. We have offices in Nashville and Goodlettsville.

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