New laws - ONLINE ONLY

Beginning July 1, holding or touching a cell phone while driving will be against the law.

Some new laws that started July 1 will change how Tennessee residents drive, gamble, marry and learn.

One new law is designed to make Tennessee roads safer by restricting drivers’ access to cell phones and electronic devices.

The law will make it illegal for drivers to hold a cell phone or mobile device with any part of their body, write, send or read text messages and reach for a cell phone in any manner that requires them to no longer be in a seated position or remove their seatbelt.

Drivers will also no longer be allowed to record or broadcast videos on mobile devices, or watch a video or movie on mobile devices.

Drivers will be allowed to use an earpiece, headphone device or wrist-worn device to make and receive phone calls, but will be allowed to use only one button on a mobile device.

Someone can listen to music on a mobile device while driving, but cannot touch the cellphone to activate or program the music while driving.

Drivers can mount cell phones inside the car, or place them in cupholders while driving.

Sgt. Michael Rodgers of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office spoke about the new law.

“The nature of the law is they don’t want you physically holding a device – period,” Rodgers said.

Whether there is a grace period when the law first takes effect is up to each agency and each officer who makes a stop, Rodgers said. He is asking his patrol officers to hand out informational cards to educate drivers in the beginning, he said, but added that whether to write a ticket is an individual officer’s decision based on each situation.

The sheriff’s office plans to place message boards along road sides and to use social media to educate drivers, Rodgers said.

“We want people to know about it,” Rodgers said. “It’s a safety thing.”

A violation of the new cell phone law will be a Class C misdemeanor and considered a moving traffic violation. Fines include: $50 for first- and second-time violators, $100 for three or more violations or when violation results in a car crash and $200 when violation occurs in a work zone while workers are present or in a marked school zone while flashers are in operation.

In 2018, there were more than 24,600 crashes involving a distracted driver in the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Other laws going into effect include:

• Gov. Bill Lee’s Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program, which will allow families in certain districts the ability to receive up to $7,300 in state education money to allow their child to attend a private institution.

• The elimination of issuing a marriage license to any applicant younger than 17 regardless of the support of parent or guardian.

• Makes it mandatory for local school boards to adopt a policy that allows parents, guardians or persons having custody of a student to view photographs or video footage collected from a school bus camera.

• Establishes requirements for riders of electric scooters, including DUI laws. The law considers an electric scooter a motor-driven vehicle.

• Creates a gaming commission to oversee legal online sports gambling in the state.  

Staff writer Jason Reynolds contributed to this report.

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