Put Down Your Phone and Read This
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or totally absorbed with the return of The Hills or the Chernobyl miniseries or the sudden thunderstorms that have been tearing through Nashville over the past week) you’ve probably heard that on July 1, there is a distracted driving law going into effect in Tennessee banning handheld phone usage. Basically, the law states that if you use your phone, whether talking or texting, while operating a vehicle, you will get busted. (This includes sitting at a red light!) For your first and second offenses, you receive a $50 fine. For your third offense, the fine doubles to $100. If you get busted on your phone in a work zone or school zone, the fine gets doubled again to $200.
There are some rules on how many times you can press a button (once) and if you can use Bluetooth or a dashboard mount (you can), and then there are some exceptions (like an emergency, or if you yourself are an emergency worker) but the overall gist of it is, don’t touch your phone at all while your car is in drive. They say police officers are getting prepared to crack down on those who talk/text/watch movies or tv while they drive. (Seriously, who is so talented that they can watch TV and drive at the same time???)
But I have to admit, the $50 fine seemed a little…puny to me. I mean, have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? It’s more than a $50 fine. Hell, have you ever gotten a PMC parking ticket? THAT is more than $50! So my initial thought was that the fine seems a bit…undaunting. Yes it would definitely suck to spend $50 on that instead of a million other things, but it’s not a fine that is going to scare the bejesus out of anyone. In fact, even if you get busted twice, you still receive the $50 fee; it’s not until the third time that the fine even goes up to $100.
Hands Free Tennessee is a campaign co-sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security. I was surprised that the state is making such a big deal about this but issuing fines that are still relatively small, considering it is a moving violation. I brought this up at work, and one of my colleagues said she hadn’t even heard about the law! Another said she heard a segment on the radio which explained that the catch is, it isn’t so much the fine that’ll cost you -- but the offense you’ve committed is a moving violation that adds 3 points to your record. And guess what? If you get 12 points in a year, you lose your license. There are a variety of violations that come with a variety of point equivalents, but when I started looking for information about how many points this would add, it was very hard for me to find. Last week I looked at the Hands Free Tennessee site and it wasn’t listed at all, which sent me down a rabbit hole looking for how many points this moving violation would add to your record. I never quite found clear, black and white facts on it.
Then, about a week later, as I sat down to write this article, I went back to handsfreetn.com. It didn’t take me long to go to the FAQ’s and see that, voila!, now there is indeed information on how many points this moving violation would add to your record and that you are allowed 12 in a year before your license is revoked. So, the bigger picture is that if you get caught texting or talking while driving, you can get points. Then let’s say you have a car accident, unrelated to your phone – points. Then let’s say you are going WAAAAAYYYY too fast on 440 one day (who, me???) and boom – more points. So it is feasible to do a series of dumb things in the course of a year and accrue 12 points, causing you to lose your license. But I have to be honest – I feel like unless you have absolutely no regard for any of the rules,even getting 12 points in a year would be hard! I mean, what do I know, I tend to be EXTREMELY cautious when it comes to things like drinking and driving – even one drink and I prefer to call a Lyft – and I have some sense of spatial relations, so I don't have a track record of getting in car accidents, which is awesome. I feel like getting 12 points in a year would mean someone either has the worst luck OR they make the worst decisions – or both!
I think the true motivation to putting down your phone has to come from within. The desire to be focused on the road, to know that texts can wait, and you have to be present while driving. This will make the roads safer for all of us, resulting in fewer accidents and death over things that can wait – which is, well, everything.