• Jim Hawkins: Distracted driving and the Due Car Law

    By Jim Hawkins -

    “Friends don’t let friends text and drive,” — A wisely worded bumper sticker.

    Let this sink in. Tennessee is the most dangerous state for cellphone-related accidents.

    The National Safety Council reports Tennessee drivers have more cellphone-related crash fatalities than drivers in any other state. Vehicle crashes are the single-largest cause of death for Tennesseans 17-34 years old.

    Q. Does Tennessee have laws against texting while driving?

    Yes. Since 2009, it has been a Class C misdemeanor to send or read texts while driving, punishable by a fine of up to $50.

    Q. Are there any tougher Tennessee laws against distracted driving?

    Yes. Many law enforcement officers have begun using an older Tennessee law passed in 1955 at TCA section 55-8-136, called the Due Care Law.

    Distracted driving can involve more than cellphone use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identifies three types of distractions:

    • visual, taking your eyes off the road.

    • manual, taking your hands off the wheel.

    • cognitive, taking your mind off of driving.

    Tennessee’s Due Care Law prohibits all three types of distracted driving.  The law requires drivers to:

    • operate the vehicle at a safe speed.

    • maintain a safe lookout.

    • keep the vehicle under proper control.

    • devote full time and attention to operating the vehicle.

    • act under the circumstances as necessary to protect life and property and avoid colliding with people, vehicles or fixed objects.

    Penalties include a fine of up to $50 plus full court costs and up to 30 days in jail.

    It is a Class B misdemeanor if failure to exercise due care causes serious injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist and a Class A misdemeanor in the event of death.

    Stay off the phone in a school zone. It is currently a Class C misdemeanor to use a handheld cellphone while driving in an active flasher-marked school zone.

    Jim Hawkins is a Tennessee general-practice and public- interest law attorney. This column represents legal information and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call 615-452-9200.

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