Tennessee’s Cellphone-Use and Texting-While-Driving Laws

Read about Tennessee’s distracted driving laws and the costs of a violation.

Tennessee’s distracted driving laws impose different restrictions depending on the circumstances. This article gives an overview of what the law prohibits and the penalties you’ll face for a violation.

Text Messaging

Tennessee law prohibits using a cellphone or wireless electronic device to send or read a text message while driving. However, there’s an exception for drivers who are at least age years of age and use a hands-free device to send or receive a text message.

The laws of most states restrict not only texting while driving but also texting while temporarily stopped at signals and in traffic. However, Tennessee’s law prohibits texting only while a driver's vehicle is actually in motion.

Penalties. A violation of Tennessee’s texting-while-driving law is a class C misdemeanor. The maximum fine for the violation is $60 (including court costs). A texting ticket will also add demerit points to the person’s driving record. And first-time violators must complete a driver education course.

Exceptions. Tennessee’s texting ban doesn’t apply to law enforcement officers and other emergency personnel who send or receive text communications in the discharge of their duties. And there’s also an exception for anyone who uses text communication to communicate with emergency personnel during an actual emergency.

Talking on a Cellphone in a School Zone

In Tennessee, it’s illegal to talk on cellphone while driving through a school zone. However, there’s an exception to this rule for drivers who are at least age years of age and use a hands-free device.

Penalties. A violation of Tennessee’s cellphone-while-driving law is a class C misdemeanor. The maximum fine for the violation is $60 (including court costs). However, unlike with texting offenses, a violation for talking on a cellphone isn’t considered a moving violation and won’t result in points on the motorist’s driving record.

Exceptions. The exceptions to Tennessee’s cellphone-while-driving ban are the same as those that apply to texting—emergency personnel and those communicating with emergency personnel in an emergency are exempt.

School Bus Drivers

Tennessee has strict distracted driving regulations that apply to school bus operators. Bus drivers within the state are prohibited—with few exceptions—from using any portable electronic device while operating a school bus with at least one child aboard. The restriction applies while the bus is in motion or stopped and children are loading or unloading. The law contains an expansive definition of “portable electronic device,” which includes cellphones, tablets, laptops, video games, cameras, and many other portable electronics.

Penalties. Bus drivers who violate Tennessee’s portable electronics ban can be charged with a class A misdemeanor. A conviction carries a minimum 30 days in jail and at least $100 in fines. Thereafter, the driver will be permanently prohibited from operating a school bus within the state.

Exceptions. Tennessee’s bus driver restrictions don’t apply to 9-1-1 calls and two-way radio communications with dispatch or the school transportation department.
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