Handheld phone calls in active TN school zones illegal Jan. 1

Students and parents and all motorists have until January to adjust to a new state law that makes talking on a cell phone — with the device in hand — illegal in an active school zone.

Not only texting. Or, reading texts. But also talking on a phone in your hand.

“If you are holding a phone up to your ear while driving in a school zone, it’s illegal (next year),” said Dickson County High School resource officer Jeremy Wall.

Wall, who is a Dickson police officer, works morning traffic at the high school.

“(Cell phones) are usually the distraction I deal with on a regular basis,” Wall said.

“When someone has the phone to their ear talking, they are so engrossed in that conversation...they are looking left, they are looking right. And the whole time I am standing there motioning for them to come out.”

State Sen. Jim Tracy, who sponsored the legislation with state Rep. John Holsclaw, said constituents and law enforcement have said they"don’t think that anybody ought to be using a handheld cell phone during an active school zone.”

“You should be concentrating on reducing your speed limit and paying attention. You have children walking and a lot of traffic around," Tracy added. “Eventually, as technology gets better, everything will be hands free.”Wall said not only is the distraction dangerous, it's also frustrating for students, parents and educators. 

“Typically, if there is a line of cars, and someone is sitting way back because they are looking at their phone. Guess what I am going to do? I am going to the next rotation," Wall said. "I am going to this group (of vehicles) and bring them on in.”

The law states that it’s an offense — Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $50 — for a person to knowingly operate a motor vehicle in any marked school zone in this state, when a warning flasher or flashers are in operation, and talk on a hand-held mobile telephone while the vehicle is in motion.

However, the offense is not committed if the telephone is equipped with a hands-free device, for drivers 18 years of age and older.

A driver under age 18 is breaking the law talking either using a hands-free or handheld while driving through an active school zone.

Tracy said lawmakers contemplated pushing legislation that outlawed driving while talking on a handheld phone completely during the past legislative session. However, the state senator said like-minded legislators are waiting for persuasive feedback. 

“There is a lot of interest in (outlawing handheld phone calls while driving)," Tracy said. “We are definitely looking at it. It depends on if the people are ready." 

"When you talk to people in my district, they are very frustrated with people using cellphones while they drive," added Tracy, while noting that most phones now can be used hands free with a speaker, Bluetooth or earphones. 

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