Holsclaw to propose new law on drivers using cell phones
Published 9:27 am Tuesday, December 8, 2015
While there is still a month to go before the Tennessee State Legislature returns to session in Nashville, one local lawmaker is already working on one topic he would like to address during the session — making Tennessee roads safer.
State Rep. John Holsclaw, whose district includes a portion of Carter County, has drafted legislation to help eliminate distracted driving. Tennessee already has laws on the books banning texting while driving, but under Holsclaw’s bill talking on a cellphone while driving would be banned unless the driver is using the phone in hands-free mode.
In 2015 alone, 1,336 car crashes in Tennessee have been attributed to distracted driving due to cellphone usage, Holsclaw said.
“People’s lives have been taken because of cell phones,” he said, adding that was his inspiration behind drafting the bill. “I realized that cell phones are going to be worse than driving under the influence as far as the number of people killed in accidents.”
As he considered the problem, Holsclaw said he talked with people he knew, his constituents and with local law enforcement officers to get their take on the issue.
The use of cellphones while driving has long been a source of contention, not only in Tennessee but across the nation. Currently, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is completely banned in 14 states as well as in Washington, D.C. The use of cellphones by those with driver permits is restricted in 37 states and D.C. Text messaging is banned in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Right now in Tennessee, adults can still hold their phones and drive at the same time, as long as they are not texting or emailing. However, law enforcement officials have said it is almost impossible to enforce the texting ban since drivers can still lawfully hold a cellphone while driving, Holsclaw said.
“Law enforcement is really big on this bill, they are highly in favor of it,” Holsclaw said. “This is the next step in doing what is necessary to curb distracted driving and keep Tennessee roads safe.”
“You will still be able to talk on your cell phone, you will just have to do it hands free,” he added.
Under Holsclaw’s proposal, a violation of the law would be punishable by up to a $50 fine. The citation would be considered a “nonmoving traffic violation,” which means that no points would be added to a driver’s record for the offense.
Holsclaw is currently examining ways to use the money collected under his proposed law to fund drivers education courses for high school students or possibly other drivers safety programs.
“I just want to make the roads safer, and I think this bill will do that,” Holsclaw said. “My intent with proposing this legislation is to save lives and make our roads safer for your family and mine.”
While the proposal is sure to be controversial when it comes up for debate, Holsclaw, who will be in his second session of the Legislature, is no stranger to proposing controversial, out-of-the box thinking when it comes to solving state problems.
In the 2014 session, Holsclaw’s first as a State Representative, he proposed a law that would bar those individuals convicted of a third or subsequent offense of driving under the influence from purchasing alcohol.
The bill passed the Senate’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee and was forwarded on the full Senate for a vote but it died in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee before coming to a full House vote. One of the reasons behind the bill’s failure in subcommittee was the price tag attached to the state to issue new identification cards and license to those residents sentenced to alcohol purchase restrictions, Holsclaw said.
Despite the fact the bill failed in the last session, Holsclaw said he has not given up on the idea because repeat DUIs are still too common of a problem in the state. “I may tweek it a little bit, but I’m going to bring it back,” he said.