How Tennessee’s Hands-Free Law Affects You


It’s no secret that talking or texting on a cellphone while driving is dangerous. Numerous studies have shown that the average time a person spends on a cellphone while driving a car is five seconds. But how much do you know about Tennessee’s hands-free law?

That’s more than enough time to miss a pedestrian at the Nashville intersection of Welshwood Drive and Nolensville Pike or to fail to stop for a red light on Lafayette Street, for instance.

Distracted Driving Dangers

Any activity that takes your attention away from driving and the roadway is distracted driving, and texting and driving is one of the most distracting activities to engage in while driving. Distracted driving is considered just as dangerous as drunk driving. Texting and driving kills.

According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, more than 18,000 car accidents in 2018 were attributed to distracted driving. This includes texting, reading emails, watching videos, or talking on your phone.

Last year, Tennessee became one of 19 states to enact a law that bans all use of a hand-held cell phone by any driver.

Many state legislators throughout the country have been slow to pass strict laws that ban or dictate personal conduct, even if it would serve public safety, such as the wearing of seat belts.

In 1968, the federal government required that all new vehicles except buses be equipped with seat belts, although every state but New Hampshire now requires front-seat occupants to wear seat belts, it was not until 1984 that New York became the first state to do so. Still, there are several states where law enforcement cannot stop you for failing to wear a seat belt unless you violated another traffic law.

However, Tennessee’s hands-free law isn’t a “secondary violation.” You can be pulled over for the simple act of using your phone while driving.

What the Tennessee Law Prohibits 

Tennessee legislators saw the trend as not promising in convincing its drivers to voluntarily refrain from at least hand-held cellphone use. Consequently, it passed Tennessee’s hands-free law last year that mandates the following:

  1. You cannot hold a cellphone in your hand, against your ear, or anywhere else on your body for any reason unless it is an emergency. An emergency is not being late for an appointment or school. It must be an occurrence that threatens human life, health, or property. 
  2. Any driver who is at least 18 years old can use an electronic device in a hands-free and voice-operated mode while driving. If you are under 18, you cannot use any electronic device in any kind of mode unless it is an emergency.
  3. You can place your phone in a holder or stand but you are only permitted to use one button at a time, or a swipe of your finger if you want to take a call or to end one. Be aware that any physical use of your phone can attract the attention of an officer who may decide to stop you.
  4. It is illegal to read, send, or write any texts or email messages. This is true even if you are stopped at a red light or stop sign. Pull over to the side of the road or into a parking spot and put your car in park. If you are engaged in any of such activities while merely stopped at a light, stop sign, or for congestion, you violate the law since you are in traffic and you are still in operation of your vehicle. 
  5. It is illegal to reach for your phone if in doing so, you are no longer in a seated or restrained position. If you drop your phone and it falls to the passenger side floor, or it is in the back seat, your attempt to retrieve it can be construed as being out of your seated position. 
  6. It is illegal to watch a video or movie on your cellphone while driving, even if you have the phone in a holder and are not physically holding it. 
  7. You may not record or video anything while operating your vehicle. 
  8. If using GPS, you can still use it by pushing a single button or a hand swipe, if needed. Better yet, put it on voice commands so that a police officer will not see you physically engaged with your phone. 

Penalties for Violating the Cell Phone Law

An officer has the option of issuing you a warning or a citation if you violate any part of the cell phone law. A violation is a Class C misdemeanor that can result in:

  • $50 fine for a first and second violation
  • $100 for a third violation 
  • $200 if the violation occurred in a work or construction zone with workers present or in a marked school zone where flashers are present
  • A fine of more than $200 if a violation was a factor in causing an accident 
  • No school bus driver can use a cellphone or any other electronic device if at least one child is onboard. It also applies if the bus is stopped or loading or unloading children. A violation is a Class A misdemeanor carrying a minimum of 30-days in jail and a $100 fine. The driver is further permanently banned from operating a school bus in Tennessee
  • Three points on your driving record

Can Cell Phone Records be Accessed in an Accident?

If a motorist was involved in a Nashville car accident where a serious injury or fatality occurred, the District Attorney’s Office can determine whether to access that person’s phone records to see if the individual had received or was engaged in a phone call, email, or text at or near the approximate time of the collision.

This can be instrumental in assessing liability if it is disputed. If the DA declines to ask for your phone records, your car accident lawyer can subpoena these records.

Another consideration is if the at-fault driver was on his/her way to work, was operating a company vehicle, or was on the phone making a business call when the collision occurred. In some cases, the employer can be held vicariously liable. That can result in additional compensation to you in some cases.

Speak to the Law Offices of Steinger, Greene, and Feiner

If you have been a victim of a car accident involving distracted driving, speak with a lawyer that understands Tennessee’s hands-free law.

Distracted driving is a major factor in numerous car accidents that result in serious and fatal injuries. If you are injured by a distracted driver, a Nashville car accident lawyer from Steinger, Greene & Feiner may be able to help you get the compensation you deserve. Call us at (800) 560-5059 or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation today. Our Nashville personal injury attorneys will help you get the money you deserve.

About The Author

Michael Steinger

Michael Steinger

The Florida BarFlorida Bar Young Lawyers DivisionMillion Dollar Advocates ForumMillion Dollar Advocates ForumBest Workers Compensation Attorneys in MiamiBest Car Accident Lawyers in MiamiLawyers of distinction

MICHAEL S. STEINGER, founding partner of Steinger, Greene & Feiner, believes in representing real people, not big businesses. Since the firm’s creation in 1997, Steinger, Greene & Feiner has never represented an insurance company or large corporation, and he vows to keep this promise. Over the course of his career, Michael has handled thousands of Florida accident cases, recovering millions of dollars for his clients and earning him membership into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Staying up-to-date on the ever-evolving laws protecting injury victims and their families, Michael is an active member of the American Bar Association, the Palm Beach, and St. Lucie Bar Associations, and sits on the Auto Insurance Committee of the Florida Justice Association.