By Jill Penley
It is now illegal to talk on a cell phone or mobile device while driving through an active school zone. The new state law, which took effect Jan. 1, makes handheld calls in operating school zones illegal, punishable by a $50 fine for those 18 and older. Tennessee law already bars texting while driving for everyone, and drivers with a learner’s permit or intermediate license may not use cellphones at all while driving, even with hands-free technology.
“Staying focused while behind the wheel is important at all times, but especially in school zones,” said Director of Schools Dr. Mischelle Simcox in a recent statement.
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 crashes 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.
“A person may not knowingly operate a motor vehicle and talk on a hand-held mobile telephone while the vehicle is in motion unless it is being used in hands-free mode,” said Everquote, an online insurance marketplace, which published an extensive report last year based on local driving habits.
Information was gathered during 2.7 million car trips over 230 million miles by users of its EverDrive app, for customers who want to gauge and improve their safety habits. The app uses smartphone components to detect speeding, as well as signs of distraction such as phone use and sudden stops, turns and acceleration. According to the EverDrive Safe Driving Report, Tennessee ranked a dismal 32nd place in best drivers in the country. When it came to phone use behind the wheel, that ranking dropped the state to 48th, with only Florida and Louisiana fairing worse. According to the published report, 44 percent of the drives in Tennessee contained at least one distracted driving event. Greg Tramel, public information officer for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, describes an “active school zone” as “any marked school zone in this state when a warning flasher or flashers are in operation.” The active times for school zones vary but can range between the times of 7:15-8: 15 a.m. and 3:15-4:15 p.m.