The Tennessee Highway Patrol and Tennessee Department of Safety rolled out a new traffic safety campaign Thursday that includes adding police SUVs and tractor-trailer trucks to detect "distracted driving" on interstate highways.
In addition, Tennessee drivers will begin to notice a change in the signs on interstate highway overpasses declaring "Drive to Zero," rather than the constant "Buckle Up" campaign messages.
Through these efforts, officials said they hope to decrease statewide traffic fatalities by 15 percent in 2014.
"It may seem unrealistic to most, but it's a way to personalize this," Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said during a press conference at the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Training Center on Stewarts Ferry Pike. "How many fatalities are acceptable to you and your family and your circle of friends?"
State troopers and local law enforcement agencies will be using Ford Explorers and semis to detect drivers texting, dialing, typing on a computer or anything else that could take a driver's eyes off the road. However, holding and talking on a cellphone while driving is not against the law in Tennessee.
"This is difficult to enforce because the law specifically states texting and driving," Trott said, adding that the THP is working to expand the wording in the law to include all distracted driving.
The decision to use tractor-trailers in the enforcement effort came after THP completed successful test runs in Chattanooga.
In 2014, THP has investigated 192 traffic fatalities, 15 fewer fatalities than at this time last year.
The campaign strives to educate drivers on the hazards of driving under the influence, aggressive driving and distracted driving, as well as the necessity of seat belts. In more than half of traffic fatalities, drivers were not using seat belts, according to THP statistics.
"We want to make (the state) a better place and not suffer at the hands of someone who chooses to violate the law," Robertson County Sheriff Bill Holt said at the press conference.