If state lawmakers have their way, the use of handheld electronic devices while driving will soon be illegal in Tennessee.
The House and the Senate passed the legislation in the final days of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly, which adjourned for the year on Thursday.
The measure was sent to Gov. Bill Lee for his consideration. The governor can veto the proposal, sign it, or allow it to become law without his signature.
The “hands-free” legislation was among a slew of proposals – some controversial – that state lawmakers passed this session.
Supporters of the “hands-free” measure say its main purpose is to prevent drivers from holding a cell phone and talking on Tennessee highways.
Under the legislation, violators would face up to a $50 fine. That amount could reach $100 if the violation causes an accident or $200 for violations in construction or school zones.
Currently, 16 states and Washington D.C. prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Georgia passed a similar law last year.
Right now, the use of hand-held cell phones is banned in Tennessee school zones.
According to a recent study, Tennessee, Delaware, Wyoming, Texas, and Montana were the five worst states for distracted driving and were responsible for 31 percent of all distracted driving fatalities from 2015 to 2017.
During that time period, more than 1,400 lost lives were attributed to collisions involving drivers that were manipulating their cell phones.
The fatality rate in Tennessee which topped the list — 7.2 distracted driving deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles — was nearly five times the national average of 1.49 fatalities.
The study drew on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
As a result of the law in Georgia, officials there say they’ve seen a decrease in distracted driving.
Business owner Karla Winfrey has a home in Atlanta, and frequently drives between Georgia and Tennessee, where she has family in Nashville. She believes banning the use of hand-held cell phones is a life saver.
“A lot of people say it’s an inconvenience,” says Winfrey. “But would it be an inconvenience if you’re lying in the hospital, or worse? The minimal cost is the fine that you have to pay. The greatest cost is your life.”
Other measures Tennessee lawmakers passed this session and have been sent to the governor include:
The legislation would allow families in certain school districts to receive up to $7,300 in state funds to spend on private tuition. The program would only take place in Shelby and Davidson counties.
Medicaid block grant
A lump sum would be given to provide healthcare to low-income people. If signed by the governor and approved by the federal government, Tennessee could become the first state to fund its Medicaid program through a block grant system.
Would penalize voter registration groups for submitting incomplete forms. Also, nonprofit groups assisting voter registrations would face fines for submitting too many incomplete forms and also for submitting forms too late.
The proposal would spell out that Tennessee’s public indecency law applies to single-sex, multi-person bathrooms and changing rooms.
Daylight Saving bill
Daylight saving time would be observed year-round in Tennessee.
Online sports betting
Would permit online sports gambling in Tennessee. The legislation establishes a nine-member commission, housed within the state Lottery Commission, to oversee sports betting regulations. Gov. Bill Lee decided to let the bill become law without his signature.