Distraction Is Proving to Be a Big Problem for Tennessee Drivers
May 21st, 2018 by Attorney John Colvin
Driving while distracted in Tennessee can be costly. The fee for texting while driving is just $50, but police can instead issue a citation for violating the “due care” law, which comes with a fine of up to $300. In addition to those penalties, drivers may be subject to a steep increase in car insurance premiums.
Between 2011 and 2018, insurance premiums for Tennessee drivers ticketed for distracted driving increased by 29 percent, on average – or about $379 per year. Despite the potential costs – and despite the crash risk – many people continue to drive while distracted.
Challenges of Enforcement
Tennessee law forbids texting while driving, but that law is difficult to enforce. Even when police see a driver holding a phone or looking at a phone, they can’t prove the driver was texting. In 2017, state troopers issued 3,557 citations for texting while driving – not many, considering the number of motorists who travel Tennessee highways. But texting is just one form of distraction.
The state’s due care law gives police broader authority to cite motorists for distracted driving. The law requires drivers to devote “full time and attention to operating the motor vehicle,” so police can ticket anyone who appears to be distracted.
Distraction and Fatalities
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, distraction was a factor in 3,450 traffic fatalities in 2016. But the actual number of distraction-related fatalities may be much higher. If there are no witnesses to a crash, and no survivors, investigators may be unable to discern whether a driver was distracted at the time of a crash.
How To Curb Distracted Driving
In some fatal crashes, the evidence of distraction exists in the form of one final text message sent to a friend or family member, just an instant before the crash. People don’t need to be in a car to help reduce texting-while-driving crashes; they can tell their friends and family not to text them while driving, and they can also refrain from texting people they know to be driving.
When riding as a passenger, people can offer assistance when a driver seems distracted – for example, offering to help a driver who is reaching for something in the back seat or who is trying to access traffic information on a smartphone.
Setting Good Examples
Young people learn a lot about driving by watching their parents. Accordingly, parents who want their teen drivers to be safe may want to re-examine their own driving behavior. Engaging in distracting behaviors sets a dangerous example for teens, and parents can’t expect teens to follow driving rules that they themselves don’t follow.
The NHTSA’s distracted driving website offers resources and tips for parents and educators about how to educate teens on the dangers of driving distracted. These lessons could help drivers of any age avoid the costly penalties and serious injuries associated with distracted driving.