Those caught texting and driving in Tennessee will soon face stiffer penalties.
On January 1, 2024, a law will go into effect that will raise the number of points charged to distracted drivers’ driving records.
Senate Bill 0589, also known as the Eddie Conrad Act, was named after a Middle Tennessee businessman who died in 2020 after being struck by a distracted motorist. Senator Mark Pody of District 17 was drawn in by this.
“No one intended to harm anyone. Nobody intended to kill anyone. But, as a result of this catastrophe, we looked at the regulations, and there wasn’t much teeth in the texting and driving law,” Pody explained.
Larissa Thompson’s tale is similar. Clifton Gibbs, her fiancé, was killed by a careless motorist in Memphis in 2012. This prompted her to establish the Collegiate Life Investment Foundation (CLIF) in order to raise awareness about distracted driving. She also provides emotional, physical, and financial support to victims and their families.
“I go to businesses, corporations, and schools and speak solely about distracted driving.” We also have a program called VAN, which stands for Victims Assisted Network. “We work with psychologists and grief counselors to help our victims,” Thompson explained.
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security reports that more than half of distracted drivers are aged 34 and under.
The new law will have the greatest impact on young drivers. A second infraction will result in seven points for anyone under the age of 18. This would result in their licenses being suspended for up to a year.
“We’re getting more and more law enforcement that are really on board because it cuts down on the accidents that are happening,” Pody added.
Anyone over the age of 18 will receive four points for the first and second offenses, and five points for the third infraction.
Adult distracted drivers may also be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $50.
Thompson has been advocating for stiffer sanctions for inattentive drivers for many years. She described the new regulation as a positive step forward, but she hopes to see stronger laws for distracted adult drivers in the future.
“To think that if I’m on my phone one time, I might have to catch a ride to work or catch the bus or catch an Uber, that makes an impact,” Thompson said.
In addition to texting and driving, the new rule imposes harsher penalties for holding, reading on, or grabbing an electronic device while driving.