Tennessee leads the nation in distracted driving deaths.

Injury prevention experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt hope the state’s newest law banning cellphone use while driving will have an impact.

“Any life lost in a motor vehicle crash due to a distracted driver is absolutely unacceptable and I am very glad that our state has taken a significant step to ensure that no family has to go through this tragic loss,” said Purnima Unni, MPH, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program Manager at Children’s Hospital.

“A recent study revealed that from 2015 to 2017, Tennessee had the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the nation — nearly five times the national average,” Unni stressed.

Each day in the United States nine people die and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes involving distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

In 2018, Tennessee reported more than 24,600 crashes involving distracted driving. In 2019, from January to March, there have been 5,592 distracted driving accidents.

The “Be In The Zone - Turn Off Your Phone” program at Children’s Hospital has played a pivotal role in educating high school students about the dangers of distracted driving. Through the program, students are challenged to communicate within their own communities the importance of being distraction free while driving.

Unni said the program will emphasize the role students can play in spreading the Hands Free message.

Approved in April, the Hands Free Law prohibits drivers from using a phone while a vehicle is in motion. Hands-free devices will be allowed, including ear pieces, headphones and wrist accessories to conduct voice-based communication. Dashboard mounts for GPS navigation, hands-free communication and voice-to-text technology are permitted.

For drivers younger than 18 years, it will be unlawful to talk on the phone while the vehicle is in motion, regardless of whether it is a hands-free device.

Unni stressed that there are key elements of the new law that make it illegal to:

  • Physically support with any part of the body a cellphone or mobile device
  • Write, send or ready any text-based communication
  • Reach for a cellphone or mobile device in a manner that requires the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a seat belt
  • Watch a video or movie on a cellphone or mobile device
  • Record or broadcast video on a cellphone or mobile device

Drivers in violation of the new law could face up to a $200 fine.

Texting while driving is already illegal in Tennessee as well as using a hand-held device in active school zones.

Tennessee will be the 19th state to ban cellphone use while driving.