Don't Hold the Phone | Details to Help You Comply with Tennessee's Hands Free Driving Law

As of July 1, 2019, Tennessee is a hands-free driving state. But "hands-free" is a misnomer. That's because the hands-free law, which expands a similar restriction that already applied in school zones, prohibits physically holding or supporting a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device with any part of your body. So you can be cited for setting your phone in your lap while driving, even if you are not using it. And it is not just phones. Stand-alone electronic devices include any portable device that stores audio or video for retrieval on demand, e.g., an iPod.

Why so broad and restrictive? Because Tennessee's Texting While Driving law was a failure. It proved unenforceable. In Knox County, for example, the District Attorney General's office dismissed many contested texting cases because, unless the defendant admitted to the crime, it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was sending or reading a message. The law enforcement officer only sees the driver doing something on the phone that looks like texting. But that is insufficient to convict under the old law. 

The legislature's solution to this proof problem was to criminalize all of the following for adult drivers:

  1. Holding or supporting a phone or device with any part of your body;
  2. Reading, writing or sending text-based communications (emails, texts, etc.), with the exception that you can use a talk-to-text feature to write and send messages;
  3. Reaching for your phone or device in a manner that causes you to no longer be seated in the driver's seat or properly restrained in your seat belt;
  4. Watching video or movie on your phone or device, with the exception of navigation;
  5. Recording or broadcasting video on your phone or device, with an exception for electronic devices, used only for the purpose of continuously recording video.

So what can you do with your phone while behind the wheel? Limited touching of the phone is permitted, so long as the phone is mounted on the windshield, dashboard or center console in a manner that does not hinder the driver's view of the roadway. You can make phone calls with a single tap, push or swipe. You may also use devices and phones for single-button talk-to-text and for navigation.

In many newer vehicles, technology makes compliance with this law a snap. Simply keep your phone out of sight and use your vehicle's integrated features for talking, texting, and navigation. But if your vehicle does not have all that tech and you want to continue using your phone in the car legally, here is our advice for compliance while driving:

  1. Keep your phone mounted on the windshield, dashboard or center console, within arm's length but not interfering with your view of the roadway.

  2. Never hold the phone.

  3. Never set the phone in your lap.

  4. Use the phone only for navigation, or calling or talk-to-text with a single tap, swipe, or push.

  5. If you need to do more, park the car, then pick up the phone.

If you have been cited for violating the law, or if you have questions, call attorney Alex Winston at 865-409-1145. To see the full text of the law, click here.


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