Tag Archives: driving

House votes to enhance penalty for texting while driving

The state House narrowly approved a bill Monday night to increase the penalty for texting and driving in Tennessee. The Senate is scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday.

From the Commercial Appeal:

Under current Tennessee law, a driver using a hand-held mobile phone or personal digital assistant to transmit or read a written message while his or her vehicle is in motion is considered a “non-moving” violation subject to a fine of up to $50 and court costs of up to $10. Using a hands-free function to text is not considered a violation of the law.

House Bill 1511, by Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, would make texting while driving a moving violation with the same level of fine but with the addition of four points against a driver’s record and mandatory attendance and completion of a driver’s education course. The points are the same those assessed for careless or negligent driving. The state suspends the driver’s license of drivers who amass 12 points a year.

Points may also result in an increase in the driver’s insurance premium.

The bill won approval on a 51-36 vote — only one vote more than the 50 required for passage in the 99-member House.

Open container bill (aka ‘pass the bottle’) dies again

State Rep. Jon Lundberg’s latest attempt to advance his so-called “Pass the Bottle” legislation failed on a voice vote Tuesday in the House State Government Committee, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

For about a half dozen years, Lundberg has filed this bill to extend the state’s open alcohol container law to passengers in a motor vehicle.(Note: This year, it was HB140. It was killed on voice vote with three legislators — Reps. Jernigan, Ramsey and Todd asking to be recorded as voting aye, according to the legislative website.)

Lundberg, R-Bristol, had modified the bill to exclude passengers in vehicles for hire or in the living quarters of a house coach or house trailer, or passengers in a vehicle being operated by a chauffeur.

…Officials from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and Tennessee Highway Patrol testified in support of the bill. And, again, Lundberg made the argument before the committee that because his bill hasn’t passed, Tennessee is missing out on millions of federal highway dollars.

“The lowest amount (of federal highway dollars) that’s been deducted from the state is just over $13 million and the highest is just over $18 million,” Lundberg said.

That money, according to the bill’s fiscal summary, could have gone into more highway safety training for the general public.

…Lundberg said he didn’t know if he would resurrect the bill next year.

“I got to admit … I don’t mind losing a battle when you’re right,” he said. “I still feel this is the right thing to do. I think it’s wrong to party in a car … It’s not a partisan issue … Virtually anyone I talk to says it makes complete sense. People say ‘Why can’t you pass it?’ All I can say is there are people up here who truly just want to be able to drink (alcohol) on their way to the game. Because of that, this fails.”

Note: Similar legislation has been killed annually for perhaps 20 years or more, though Lundberg took on the task most recently. Some recent prior posts are HERE and HERE (the latter being a columnist’s criticism of the measure.

Rep. Lundberg ready to try, try again with open container bill

Legislation to ban open containers of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles is back again this session and the Tennessean has a report.

“Right now we’re encouraging people to party in the car,” said Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who filed the legislation Thursday.

“If people are drinking in the car, except in rare instances, the driver is often participating in that.”

Passing the law is going to save lives and bring more money to Tennessee, he said. Tennessee, along with every state but Mississippi, already outlaws any drinking by the driver of a car. But it’s one of seven states — including Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Rhode Island and Virginia — that doesn’t specifically outlaw alcohol for passengers, according to a 2013 analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

By not having this law — Lundberg said it’s known as the “pass the bottle bill” — Tennessee loses out on anywhere from $6 million to $12 million a year in federal transportation funding, Lundberg said. They also can’t choose how they spend the money the state does receive from this particular federal pool: It can only go toward drunkend driving prevention events or something similar.

Note: Similar legislation has failed annually in the General Assembly for at least the past 25 years. Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, the state’s senior legislator, carried it for many years. Lundberg has been trying for years now himself. For a trip down memory lane, HERE is a link to a 2008 column written when the bill came close to getting out of a subcommittee — though it ultimately failed.

Shipley Says .05 DUI Standard Unlikely Until ‘2016 or so’

The head of a state House subcommittee that handles drunken driving legislation said Tuesday that lowering the legal standard for DUI to 0.05 percent blood alcohol content is probably at least three years away in Tennessee.
Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and other legislators attending a Mothers Against Drunk Driving news conference said next year’s legislative priority in the area likely will be lowering the blood alcohol standard — perhaps to zero — for those who have taken prescription medications.
“To have success in the Legislature, we need to do things incrementally,” said Shipley, responding to a question.
The .05 standard was recommended recently by the National Transportation Safety Board. State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, has said he intends to propose legislation next year setting that standard. Currently, Tennessee and most other states set 0.08 blood alcohol content as the level that creates a legal presumption of drunken driving.
Shipley said the lower level was “an achievable goal” but speculated it might be “2016 or so” before passage was possible. One consideration, he said, is the cost of jailing offenders convicted at between .05 percent and .08 percent and requiring them to get ignition interlock devices installed on their cars.

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Not Enough MADD Plate Purchasers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A nonprofit that campaigns against drunk driving could lose its specialty Tennessee auto license plate if more drivers don’t buy them.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/L2CGer ) reported Mothers Against Drunk Driving has until June 30 for 66 more vehicle owners to buy the plates or no more will be issued.
Tennessee Department of Revenue spokesman Billy Trout said if the specialty plates are canceled, people who already have then would be issued a standard plate at their next yearly renewal. To retain specialty plates, nonprofits must have 500 vehicle owners buy the extra cost plates. Drivers who order them pay a premium on top of the state tax and local option wheel taxes.
The sale of the plates provides about $15,000 annually to the organization. The revenue allows volunteers to provide services to victims of drunk drivers and their families.
Flint Clouse, state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, lost his grandmother when a drunk driver hit her car nine years ago, something he called a “preventable crime.”
He said that if the organization loses its specialty plate, he will have to cut programming time and spend more time on fundraising.

UT Poll: People Think Texting While Driving Distracts… but do it anyway

The University of Tennessee has done a “Tennessee Safety Traffic Culture Survey.” Among the findings, as reported by the News Sentinel:
More than a quarter of those who responded to the survey said they had sent a text or e-mail while driving at least once in the previous 30 days, compared to about 4 percent of ressondents who said they drove while intoxicated in that same time period, according to a report produced on the survey and released publicly last week.
Nearly 95 percent said it was unacceptable to drive while drowsy, yet nearly 25 percent said they had done so in the previous 30 days

Few Tennesseans Caught Texting While Driving

Tennessee lawmakers outlawed texting while driving more than two years ago, observes Andrea Zelinski, and at the time, predictions were that 3,650 people a year would end up getting pinched thumbing their noses at the law while they thumbed away at their hand-held communication devices.
This year, Tennessee Highway Patrol has issued only 174 citations. Although state officials say they don’t know how many local police citations have been written up, lawmakers who drove the bill through the Legislature say that despite the lack of tickets issued, they still believe the new law has been a success, and not a solution in search of a problem.
“I think law enforcement is beginning to figure out how to enforce it now, and it is difficult, but I think you’re going to see more enforcement as we move on,” said Chairman Jim Tracy who carried the bill in the Senate and runs the chamber’s Transportation Committee.
In 2009, lawmakers approved the texting and driving ban under the assumption it would also collected some $41,600 in fines through the up to $50 per ticket fee.
But in 2010, the state only collected $2,010 in state and county-issued citations, drastically below the state’s original estimates. THP issued 171 citations that year.
Officials who hand off such projections to the Legislature admitted earlier this year they overestimated the number of citations that would be issued for texting and driving in Tennessee.
The new law has yet to cover the price of implementation, which cost taxpayers $10,500 in programming changes to departmental systems required to enforce and track violations of the ban.

Rep. Todd Goes Golfing, Tells Governor He’s Sorry for ‘Bad Mistake’

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that Rep. Curry Todd has acknowledged and apologized for a “bad mistake” in being arrested on drunken driving and gun charges last week.
Haslam told reporters after a speech in Franklin that he had spoken with Todd at a charity golf tournament hosted by Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell and Democratic Rep. Gary Odom earlier in the day.
“I just asked him how he was doing … He said, ‘I realize I made a bad mistake and I’m sorry,'” Haslam said.
Todd, a Collierville Republican, was arrested in Nashville the night of Oct. 11 after failing a roadside sobriety test and refusing to take a breath test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found in a holster stuffed between the driver’s seat and center console.
“It was a big mistake from Rep. Todd that could have had dangerous consequences, and I think he’s aware of that as well,” Haslam said.
“Drinking and driving is wrong under any circumstances,” he said. “Now obviously having a weapon in the car makes it worse.”
Todd, a retired Memphis police officer who holds a state handgun carry permit, was charged with possession of a gun while under the influence and drunken driving. He posted bail of $3,000 and was released from jail Wednesday morning.
Todd also led an effort to enact a new state law that allows handgun carry permit holders to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, if they don’t drink.
Haslam declined to weigh in on whether Todd should remain chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee following his arrest.
“I don’t think that’s my proper role to decide that. That’s why we have that branch of government,” Haslam said. “I’ll let the speaker and others in House leadership make that call.”
Haslam’s approach mirrors statements made by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, who said last week that Todd should be “punished to the fullest extent of the law,” but that it was up to the House to decide his leadership status.
Harwell was travelling out of state last week and said she wanted to meet with Todd before making a decision about whether he will keep his chairmanship.

Fed Grant Funds Civil War Driving Trail

News release from Department of Transportation:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined state and local officials today to announce the award of a $818,880 transportation enhancement grant to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development for Phase III of the Civil War Driving Trail.
The Civil War Driving Trail is a multi-phased program that has established a statewide network of directional and historical signage to be used in conjunction with the Tennessee Civil War map/guide and applicable map/guides developed by individual localities.
“This program has created a more easily accessible, user friendly system for travelers to follow as they explore sites and transportation corridors associated with the American Civil War in Tennessee,” said Governor Haslam. “It also encourages partnerships between state agencies and local communities. I’m proud the State of Tennessee can make investments like this to enhance local communities for the benefit of citizens and visitors alike.”
The grant is made possible through a federally funded program administered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“Through Transportation Enhancement grants, TDOT has funded more than $259 million in non-traditional transportation projects,” said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. “Established by Congress in the early 1990’s, the program supports activities designed to strengthen the cultural, aesthetic and environmental aspects of the nation’s transportation system.”
The Tennessee Civil War Trails program is both a freestanding, statewide program and a part of the existing 700-site, three-state Civil War Trails program which has been developed through similar grant funding. The project will encourage and reward local governments and private sector participants that establish, promote and maintain the program in their areas.

Election Commissioner, Former State House Candidate Charged With Vehicular Homicide

A Cocke County election commissioner and businessman faces charges of vehicular homicide and drunken driving after authorities say he struck and killed a Vermont woman riding a bicycle Tuesday night, reports the News Sentinel.
Dan Ford of Hartford Road in Cosby had been drinking before the 9:42 p.m. impact, according to a report filed by Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Dennis Jenkins.
Ford was traveling north on state Highway 73 in a 2001 GMC 2500 Sierra pickup when he encountered two women riding bicycles, according to Jenkins’ report. The speed limit on that stretch of highway is 45 mph.
Jenkins said the truck struck both bicyclists.
The impact killed Katelin Richardson, 21, of Jeffersonville, Vt., Jenkins said. Richardson was not wearing a bicycle helmet, but Jenkins’ probe concluded the device probably would not have saved the woman’s life.
The second bicyclist, Rachel Warren, 19, of Seattle, Wash., was not injured.
Jenkins noted Ford had been drinking an alcoholic beverage, and more tests were ordered to determine if drugs also were involved in the crash. Ford was using a seat belt and was not injured.
Ford was freed from jail after posting a $50,000 bond.
He is an election commissioner in Cocke County. Ford is a former chair of the Cocke County Republican Party and ran in 2008 for state representative but lost to the incumbent. (Note: He was the Republican nominee against Democratic Rep. Eddie Yokley, D-Greeneville, who lost then in 2010 to Rep.Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.)