Whether you’re a lifelong Tennessean or just visiting for the weekend, it’s important to know Tennessee traffic laws. Some traffic laws are amended over time to keep up with recent technology developments, and others are frequently misstated or largely unknown. Read below for explanations of seven Tennessee traffic laws from the Tennessee car accident attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates.
1. Right turn on red
Tennessee allows drivers to turn right on a red light unless it is expressly marked “no right turn on red.” Drivers turning right on red must come to a complete stop at the red light and treat it like a “yield” sign, checking for oncoming traffic and proceeding only when it’s safe to do so.
2. Funeral processions
Tennessee funeral procession laws are some of the least-known traffic regulations in the state. One common myth is that drivers are required to pull over to let funeral processions pass. This isn’t actually state law; however, in many areas of the state (particularly small towns and rural areas), pulling over for funeral processions is still the accepted practice, and is seen as a courtesy to the mourners. State law does allow funeral processions to proceed through intersections and traffic lights regardless of right-of-way, so long as the lead vehicle did so legally. For example, if the lead vehicle of a properly-marked procession drives through a yellow light or a four-way stop, the rest of the procession may legally follow, and any other drivers are required to yield. Drivers are prohibited from attempting to pass a funeral procession on a two-lane road.
3. Phone use
Tennessee strictly prohibits texting while driving, including the reading of text messages. Handheld phone calls are allowed in most areas except in active school zones; drivers in active school zones may only make phone calls using Bluetooth or other hands-free devices.
4. Seat belts
All drivers and front-seat passengers are required to wear seat belts in Tennessee; adult back seat passengers are exempt from this requirement, although many injuries are prevented each year by the use of back-seat seatbelts. Tennessee is a primary seat belt state, meaning that drivers or adult front-seat passengers may be cited for failure to wear a seat belt even if no other traffic laws have been violated. Drivers will also be cited for any underage passengers who are improperly restrained. Click here for a complete explanation of Tennessee seat belt requirements from the Nashville accident attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates.
5. Move Over laws
Tennessee drivers are required to yield the right-of-way to approaching emergency vehicles, either by pulling onto the shoulder or, if the road has no shoulder, by pulling over to the right-hand side of the road as much as safety allows. Drivers are expected to remain stopped until the emergency vehicle passes, and then to proceed slowly and cautiously in case other emergency vehicles are following behind. When an emergency vehicle proceeds through an intersection, cross-traffic is expected to yield the right-of-way.
In Tennessee, a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .08% or more is considered legal intoxication. Operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher will incur a fine between $350-1,500, at least 48 hours in jail (or up to 11 months 29 days), and a one-year license suspension. These penalties are only for a driver’s first DUI offense; higher penalties are imposed for repeat offenders, drivers with a BAC of .2% or more, or intoxicated drivers with child passengers in the car.
7. Open container law
Tennessee open container laws differ slightly from the federal guidelines set out in the Transportation and Equity Act (TEA). The TEA recommends the prohibition of open alcohol containers in the passenger area of a vehicle (front and back seats), or “any area of the vehicle that is readily accessible to drivers or seated passengers.” 39 states currently comply with the TEA’s standards. Tennessee statute, however, bars drivers from possessing open containers while the vehicle’s engine is running, but state law imposes no such ban on passenger possession of open containers. Thus, Tennessee permits open containers as long as they are kept in the possession of a passenger, or stored in a closed glove box or trunk. However, the state statute does allow counties and municipalities to impose passenger prohibitions on open containers, so always check the local rules before allowing open containers in any area of the vehicle.