New law prohibits drivers in a school zone from talking on a cell phone

Wanda Southerland
Contributor to The News

Is a $50 fine a strong enough incentive to prohibit talking on a cell phone while driving in a school zone? Yes? No? Either way, it is illegal after becoming state law on January 1. All cell phone use is barred in school zones for drivers under age 18. The law was signed by Governor Bill Haslam in mid-May but didn’t go into effect until this week. Legislators considered at least six other distracted driver measures, but this was the only one that advanced through the legislative process.

The distracted driving legislation says: “Senate Bill 0954 (as amended in mid-April) prohibits driving while using handheld cell phones in school zones. Drivers under age 18 barred from using cell phones in school zones with hands-free devices as well. Vehicle must be in motion for violation. Class C misdemeanor with $50 fine. Approved by Transportation in a 6-2 vote of April 17. Amended and approved by the full Senate in a 26-1 vote of April 27. Approved by the House in a 68-11 vote of May 4. Signed into law by the governor May 18. Took effect Jan. 1, 2018.”

In 2016, Tennessee toughened and tightened its texting and driving penalties whereby sanctions made texting a moving violation that comes with demerit points.

The state’s current driving prohibitions include: Text messaging prohibited while operating a motor vehicle in Tennessee. Drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses prohibited from using cell phones while driving. Use of handheld cell phones prohibited while driving in school zones. For drivers under age 18, all cell phone use illegal. School bus operators are   prohibited from using cell phones while driving, if passengers are present. Installa- tion or use of video monitors in a motor vehicle is prohibited if the intent is to provide entertainment or business content for the driver.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the overall number of deaths linked to distracted driving decreased by 2.2 percent last. Last year in Tennessee at least 18,122 crashed have been linked to distracted driving. The state Department of Safety reported that at least 80 facilities resulted from these crashes. In 2016, more than 24,700 crashes within the state were linked to distracted driving.