Police seek voluntary compliance with new hands-free cell phone law

Becky Campbell • Jul 24, 2019 at 7:00 PM

With the start of school just around the corner, Johnson City police will conduct a special enforcement next week to remind drivers about traffic laws in active school zones, particularly a state law that prohibits cell phone use by drivers under 18 and a complete hands-free law passed this year.

“We will be out in the open, you’ll see officers in uniform, the traffic unit primarily, will be in the school zones looking for violations,” Johnson City Police Sgt. Lorrie Goff said. “We’re working with the school system using social media and our news sources getting the word out to parents and citizens (and) giving them notice of when the campaign’s going to be, what the law allows for.”

Officers began enforcing the hands-free law when it went into effect July 1, “but with school starting Aug. 5 we wanted the public to know we’re really going to be paying attention in the school zones,” when school starts.

“The law allows for the usage of hands-free devices in active school zones for persons 18 and older,” Goff said. “An active school zone is defined as warning flashers in operation. If a violation occurs in an active school zone, the fine is $200 and requires a referral to Sessions Court.”

Goff said an active school zone means the school zone speed limit signs are flashing.

The new law requires drivers to be completely hands-free, meaning they cannot hold a phone or use any part of their body as a prop for the phone.

While the law permits hands-free devices in school zones, research shows the danger of using a device while driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2017 more than 3,000 people were killed by distracted drivers in the United States. Additionally, a study by the University of Utah showed that using a cell phone while driving is equivalent to a blood alcohol content level of .08.

Johnson City Police Department records revealed that 120 traffic crashes occurred within a quarter-mile of city schools between July 17, 2018, and July 17, 2019. Thirty-seven percent of those crashes occurred near Science Hill High School.

“Traffic safety is important to the Johnson City Police Department,” Goff said. “Statistics show that distracted driving is a factor in numerous crashes. Through the Hands Free Tennessee Campaign, we are striving to create awareness to gain voluntary compliance of the law.”

The announcement came on the heels of an arrest earlier this week of a man pulled over after he was seen holding his cell phone to his ear and having a conversation. While that traffic stop — which also resulted in additional charges — was not in an active school zone, it does bring to light the dangers of using electronic devices while driving.

Mark A. Horton, 55, 215 Slate Hill Road, Telford, was pulled over around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday on North Roan Street after an officer saw him holding his cell phone up to his ear. Horton was charged with third offense driving on revoked license, failure to show proof of financial responsibility, illegal use of mobile device, possession of unlawful drug paraphernalia and fabricating or tampering with evidence.

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