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“WARNING: Hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction.” — “Understanding the Distracted Brain: Why Driving While Using Hands-Free Cell Phones is Risky Behavior,” National Safety Council White Paper

On July 1, a new statewide hands-free device law, passed by the Tennessee Legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Lee as Public Chapter 412, will take effect.

Q. What does the hands-free device law do?

As of July 1, it is illegal for drivers in Tennessee to:

• Hold or support a cellphone or mobile device with any part of your body, including your lap.

• Write, send, or read any text-based communication. Drivers 18 or older can use a device to (A) automatically convert a voice-based communication to be sent in written form, and (B) navigate a vehicle using a GPS system.

• Reach for a cellphone or mobile device in a way that causes the driver not to be in a seated position or not properly restrained by a seat belt.

• Record or broadcast video on a cellphone or mobile device.

Q. Are there exceptions?

The new law does not apply to:

• Law enforcement officers on duty,

• Campus police and public safety officers,

• EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters, both volunteer and career, when discharging their duties,

• Emergency management agency officers, when discharging their duties,

• Drivers using a cellphone to communicate with 911 or other emergency officials during a bona fide emergency,

• Utility services employees and contractors while on duty, and

• Persons who are lawfully stopped or parked in their motor vehicles.

Q. What are the penalties for violation of the hands-free device law?

Violation of the hands-free device law is a Class C misdemeanor, publishable by a fine of $50 for the first two violations, and $100 for the third violation.

The fine for violation of the law is $200 in a construction zone with workers present, and in school zones when markers are flashing.

CAUTION: Hands-free devices still cause cognitive distraction, by taking your mind off the road!

Jim Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention.  Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.

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