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.

Talking on a Phone and Text Messaging

Tennessee’s distracted law prohibits all drivers while operating a vehicle from:

  • using any part of their body to support a cellphone or other wireless telecommunication device
  • writing, sending, or reading a text message while operating a vehicle
  • reaching for a wireless device in a manner that requires the driver to no longer be seated in a driving position or properly restrained by a safety belt
  • watching a video or movie on an electronic device (doesn’t apply to GPS), or
  • record or broadcast video on an electronic device (doesn’t apply to devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video).

Penalties. A violation of Tennessee’s distracted driving law is a class C misdemeanor. The maximum fine for the violation is generally $50 (plus up to $10 in court costs). However, for third and subsequent violations and violations involving accidents, the maximum fine is $100. And the maximum fine for violations that occur in a construction, work, or school zone is $200. First offenders can attend a driver education course in lieu of paying the fine.

A distracted driving ticket will also add demerit points to the person’s driving record.

Exceptions. Tennessee’s distracted driving law allows drivers who are at least 18 years old to use electronic devices in hands-free and voice-operated mode while operating a vehicle. Also, the distracted driving ban doesn’t apply to law enforcement officers and other emergency personnel who are using a device in the discharge of their duties or anyone who uses a device to communicate with emergency personnel during an actual emergency.

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 cameras, 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 of 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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