Tennessee drivers ranked worst in U.S. for cellphone distractions

Distracted driving has become a major safety issue throughout the country, and nowhere is the epidemic more keenly felt than in Tennessee. According to a recent report from the National Safety Council, Tennessee has more cellphone-related car accidents than any other state.

Cellphone use plays a role in more than one in 10 traffic fatalities in Tennessee - 10 times the national average, according to the report. Though no other state ranked as highly as Tennessee, the report showed a high frequency of fatal cellphone-related motor vehicle accidents in New York and California. At the other end of the spectrum, the report revealed relatively low numbers of such deaths in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Should the texting ban be stronger?

One factor that may contribute to Tennessee's high rate of cellphone deaths is the state's relatively relaxed laws regarding texting while driving. Although Tennessee law does prohibit drivers from using cellphones to send and receive text messages on the road, the ban has drawn criticism for not going far enough to keep the roads safe from distracted drivers.

This criticism was underscored recently by the announcement that Tennessee will not qualify for either of two federal grants that are being made available to states that have passed and enforced laws banning distracted driving. Tennessee is ineligible for the grants, which could have provided the state with hundreds of thousands of dollars, because its ban on texting while driving is not broad enough to meet the eligibility requirements, and because the penalties for violating the Tennessee law do not increase with repeat offenses.

Distracted driving statistics

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers look away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds each time they send or receive a text message. At 55 miles per hour, a vehicle travels the length of a football field during that interval.

Despite the obvious risks, however, drivers in America appear largely unable or unwilling to break the habit of using their cellphones behind the wheel. According to distraction.gov, a U.S. government website dedicated to distracted driving, there are approximately 660,000 drivers distracted by cellphones or other handheld electronic devices on the road at any given moment during daylight hours in the United States.

The legal and financial risks of texting while driving

In Tennessee, it is against the law to send or receive text messages while operating a motor vehicle. Failure to comply with the law is considered a nonmoving traffic violation and can result in a $50 fine. However, the legal and financial consequences of texting while driving do not end there; when a distracted driver causes an accident in Tennessee, he or she can be held financially liable for any injuries, deaths or other damage that occurs as a result.

People who have been hurt in a Tennessee distracted driving accident are encouraged to get in touch with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn more about their rights and legal options.