Talking on the Phone and Texting While Driving in Tennessee

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.

Tennessee's Distracted Driving (Cell Phones and Texting) Laws

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

  • using any part of their body to support a cell phone 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).

In other words, Tennessee's distracted driving law makes it illegal for drivers to text message, use a handheld phone, move from their seat to use a wireless device, watch a video, or broadcast a video while operating a vehicle. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-199.)

Fines and Penalties for Distracted Driving Tickets in Tennessee

A violation of Tennessee's distracted driving law is a class C misdemeanor.

Fines for Most Distracted Driving Violations in TN

The maximum fine for the violation is generally $50 (plus up to $10 in court costs). First offenders can attend a driver's education course in lieu of paying the fine.

Fines for TN Distracted Driving Violations Involving Two Priors or an Accident

For third and subsequent violations and violations involving accidents, the fine is $100.

Fines for TN Distracted Driving Violations in Construction, School, and Work Zones

The fine is $200 for violations that occur in construction, work, or school zones.

Traffic Violation Points for TN Distracted Driving Tickets

A distracted driving ticket will generally add three demerit points to the person's driving record. However, underage drivers who are conviction of a second or subsequent violation are looking at seven points being tacked onto their driving record.

Exceptions to Tennessee's Distracted Driving Laws

Tennessee's distracted driving law allows drivers who are at least 18 years old to use electronic devices in hands-free and voice-operated modes 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.

Tennessee's Distracted Driving Restrictions for 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 cell phones, tablets, laptops, video cameras, cameras, and many other portable electronics. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-192.)

Fines and Jail Time for School Bus Driver Distracted Driving Tickets in TN

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 $1,000 in fines. Thereafter, the driver will be permanently prohibited from operating a school bus within the state.

Exceptions to TN's School Bus Driver Distracted Driving Law

Tennessee's bus driver restrictions don't apply to 9-1-1 calls, two-way radio with dispatch or the school transportation department, GPS units, or hands-free wireless communications for the purpose of accurately accounting for the children at pick-ups and drop-offs.

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