Under a new state law that went into effect July 1, drivers in Tennessee are now prohibited from holding a wireless telecommunications device such as a cell phone, personal digital assistant, or computer while operating a vehicle.
To comply with the new law, the Oak Ridge city code has to be changed. The Oak Ridge City Council will consider the code change in the first of two readings during a meeting this evening (Monday, July 8).
The proposed city ordinance mirrors the new state law, the city’s legal staff said in a July 1 memo. Most first and second offenses of the new handheld law will be brought to Oak Ridge City Court. Other offenses will result in state charges, which can result in higher fines than those imposed in municipal courts. Those other offenses include third and higher offenses, as well as violations occurring in construction zones, marked school zones where flashers are operating, and offenses that result in a crash.
There are a list of exceptions that will allow some drivers to continue to use telecommunications devices while performing their work duties. Those exceptions include police officers and firefighters, said the legal staff (City Attorney Ken Krushenski and Senior Staff Attorney Tammy Dunn). Also included would be emergency medical technicians, emergency management officers, and employees or contractors of utility service providers while they are working. Also excepted would be people who are lawfully stopped or parked.
All drivers are allowed to use their devices in an actual emergency, the legal staff said. An emergency could include a naturally occurring or human-caused event that threatens human health, life, or property.
A violation of the ordinance would be a Class C misdemeanor, under the city code amendment to be considering tonight. It could be punished by a fine of up to $50 for a first or second offense and court costs of up to $10.
A third or higher offense, or certain violations in school or construction zones, or ones that result in crashes, could be punished by fines set by state law at more than $50, the proposed amendment said. Those violations are state offenses and not city ordinance violations.
The city code had previously been amended to mirror a state law that went into effect on January 1, 2018. That law established school zones as “hands-free” areas for all drivers. Under that law, it was an offense for a driver to talk on a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a vehicle in a marked schools zone when warning flashers were operating. It was also an offense for someone under 18 who was driving to talk on a mobile telephone equipped with a hands-free device while a motor vehicle was moving on a road or highway.
Another section of the city code that had been adopted in 2015 and updated in 2018 mirrored a state law that prohibited texting while driving.
The City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday, July 8, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom at 200 South Tulane Avenue. You can see the agenda here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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