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“Hands-free” law takes effect July 1

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

It’s already against the law in Tennessee to text and drive. More recently hand-held cellphone use was banned in Tennessee school zones, but beginning July 1, when Tennessee’s “hands-free” law goes into effect, drivers will not be allowed to hold a cellphone in their hand at all while behind the wheel. The law prohibits texting, calling, or switching songs on your phone, but technology isn’t completely cut out as hands-free devices which utilize Bluetooth features, like earpieces and headphones, are still allowed.
“It’s great to have these laws in place, but it goes further than that,” AAA representative Megan Cooper said, adding that cell phones are a distraction whether they are in a driver’s hand or mounted on a dashboard. “Even if you have your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, if you’re not thinking about driving, you’re not doing your job as a driver.”
Supporters hope Tennessee’s new hands-free law will save lives and usher in a new era of public awareness that makes fiddling with phones behind the wheel as
objectionable as drunk driving.
Exempted from the law are law enforcement personnel, campus police and public safety officers, emergency medical responders, emergency medical agency officers, persons communicating with emergency services agencies in a “bona fide emergency,” employees or contractors of public utility service providers during the course of their duties as well as persons stopped or parked in their vehicles.
Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Elizabethton, who sponsored the bill, was the only lawmaker from Northeast Tennessee to support the bill. State Reps. Timothy Hill, Micah Van Huss, Matthew Hill, Bud Hulsey,
David Hawk and John Crawford all voted in opposition. Based on the debate on the House floor preceding the vote in mid-April, most opposition revolved around the idea of government overreach and the ambiguity of the emergency services exception.
“It bothers me that you make an out for police who are going to write the ticket for you talking on the phone, and then drive down the phone and talk on the phone,” said Rep. Hulsey, a retired police lieutenant, who represents Sullivan County’s second district, during the debate.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, currently 19 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.