Tennessee Distracted Driving Enforcement

Distracted driving continues to be a problem, causing thousands of accidents, injuries, and deaths a year. At the same time, enforcement of distracted driving laws has proven just as problematic. Jurisdictions throughout the United States have laws that penalize texting while driving, one of the most common forms of distracted driving, but for these laws to have any impact, they must be enforced.  However, as Nashville’s Metro Police Department and Tennessee State Troopers have discovered, enforcement has been a difficult hurdle to clear.  

According to research conducted by WSMV, Nashville’s NBC affiliate, Metro Police only issued 149 texting/distracted driving citations, while Tennessee State Troopers only issued about 3,600 texting and driving citations. The reason, according to police interviewed by the station, is that texting and driving is incredibly difficult to prove. As using a mobile phone for a phone call in a vehicle is not prohibited, officers have a difficult time distinguishing exactly what a driver is doing when looking at their phone. Additionally, if a driver is in an accident, even though it may seem that distracted driving was a factor, without a witness or a confession, it is nearly impossible to prove.  

Fortunately, Tennessee has a law that allows officers to charge drivers with failing to use due care which, according to the statute requires that anyone operating a motor vehicle use due care to avoid colliding with pedestrians and other vehicles. While it may seem obvious, the concept of due care is broad enough to allow officers to view the actions of a driver in the totality as opposed to through the lens of whether they are actually texting, which gives them more flexibility in issuing a citation.  

The threat of enforcement is necessary for deterrence, but the possibility of realistic enforcement is also necessary.

Based on the numbers, officers clearly believe that due care is the more enforceable of the two. Regardless of this increased enforcement, people suffer injuries and die every day due to distracted driving – harm that could be avoided if people simply put their phones aside and focused on the road. We all owe due care to each other and should practice it every time we are behind the wheel. 

The numbers reflect this. While Metro Police only issued 149 texting and driving citations, they issued over 15,000 due care citations. Tennessee State Troopers issued nearly 16,000 due care citations, versus 3,600 texting and driving citations.

The concept of due care may be debated in court as too broad. Without a fine line drawn, it may be tough to justify a case one way or the other, especially without witnesses to the situation at hand.

Jim Higgins, is an attorney and principal partner for the Serious Injury and Wrongful Death Litigation section of The Higgins Firm which specializes in personal injury cases. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, he can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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