Four new Tennessee laws to know

July 1 saw the passage of several dozen new Tennessee laws, including e-scooter regulations, school bus cameras, and the hot-button cell phone bill. Below, we’ve compiled and explained four new laws that every Tennessean should be know. For a complete list of the newly-passed bills, including links to their full text, click here.

Ban on holding phone while driving

Senate Bill 173 (House Bill 164) makes it a Class C misdemeanor to physically hold or support an electronic device while driving. The bill has been mischaracterized as a ban on talking on the phone while driving, although it actually bans the act of holding the phone rather than communicating with it. The use of an earpiece, headset, mounting device, or wrist device is still allowed. Certain municipal employees are exempt from the new law, including utility workers, law enforcement officers, and emergency personnel acting within the scope of their employment.

The penalty for violating the new law will be a $50 fine in most cases. However, the fine may increase to $100 for a third-time offense or an offense which causes an accident, or to $200 if the offense occurs in a construction or school zone.

The new law expands the scope of legislation passed earlier this year which made it illegal to hold a cell phone while in a school zone, as well as the 2009 ban on texting while driving.

E-scooter regulations to match bicycle laws

Senate Bill 1107 (House Bill 1120) establishes that electric scooters, or “e-scooters”, are subject to the same regulations as bicycles. This legislation follows a public outcry in Nashville over the potential dangers of e-scooters, primarily due to their lack of regulation. Many e-scooter users report uncertainty about the rules outlining where and how to use the scooters. Now, users need only follow the example of cyclists, and relegate scooter usage to bike lanes or the right-hand side of roadways. 

Other elements of the new Tennessee law include a provision that local governments (county, municipal, or metropolitan) are expressly allowed to enact their own legislation to control or ban electric scooters. The bill also removed a provision which allowed e-scooters to be parked on sidewalks, although it does not expressly prohibit such parking. Finally, the bill notes that electric scooters will be defined as “motor-driven vehicles” for purposes of enforcing DUI laws, meaning that it will be possible to receive a DUI charge for operating an electric scooter while intoxicated.

School bus cameras will capture unlawful passings

Senate Bill 205 (House Bill 268) will equip school buses with cameras to record incidents of illegal bus passings. The law specifies that any footage captured by the cameras may be used as evidence to prosecute offenders, and that the proceeds from resulting fines will go to the district’s Local Education Association.

Tenn. Code Ann. 55-8-151 requires all motor vehicles to stop for school buses that are loading or unloading passengers, or that have their warning signs and lights activated. An attempt to pass a stopped school bus will result in a misdemeanor charge. 

This regulation is vital to the safety of schoolchildren, but it has proven a difficult law to enforce. In the event of an illegal pass, bus drivers are often unable to note an offending driver’s license plate number in time, allowing many offenders to get away without repercussions. Tennessee’s new law will ensure that each instance of illegal passing is recorded and examined for prosecution.

Transferring firearms to mentally ill individuals becomes misdemeanor

Senate Bill 1402 (House Bill 754) will make it a Class A misdemeanor offense to knowingly transfer firearms to a mentally ill individual. The bill defines a “mentally ill individual” as one who has been committed to a mental institution, is pronounced mentally ill by a court, or receives substance abuse or inpatient mental health treatment at a hospital or treatment facility.

The new law does not require that the mentally ill individual cause harm with the firearm. The act of transfer alone is enough to incur a misdemeanor charge on the transferor. However, the law does make an exception for individuals who have had their right to possess firearms legally restored: transfer of firearms to such individuals will not incur a penalty.

In Tennessee, Class A misdemeanors carry a penalty of up to 11 months, 29 days in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500.

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