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Major law changes coming to Tennessee July 1

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The year is almost halfway over, and the first day of July will usher in the first full month of hot and humid Tennessee summer as well as a whole slew of new legislation, some of which will affect a wide population. 

Here are six of the top changes in Tennessee taking effect July 1, 2019:

Cellphone usage while driving must be (almost) completely hands-free

Tennessee state law is cracking down on distracted driving with this hands-free law. 

Under current law, drivers can be fined up to $50 (plus court fees up to $10) for operating a hand-held cellphone in an active school zone, and it is illegal for drivers under 18 to use a phone in any form while driving, including a hands-free device. 

At the top of next month, however, using a cellphone with any part of the body, regardless of the driver’s age or location, will become illegal with fines up to $100 and a maximum court fee of $50. The fine may be increased to up to $200 if the device usage results in an accident. 

Habitual cellphone GPS users and busy conversationalists need not worry too much, though, as the law provides leeway for hands-free functions activated by a single tap or swipe of a finger if the phone is mounted in a location that will not impede the driver’s view of the road, such as on the windshield or dashboard. 

Watching videos, playing games and recording or broadcasting video is strictly prohibited even with hands-free execution. 

The new law also requires driver’s education courses to teach about distracted driving, as it accounts for more crashes in Tennessee than alcohol impairment. 

In Williamson County last year, nearly 23% of accidents resulted from distracted driving whereas about 3% were alcohol related, and the number of distracted driving crashes have nearly doubled since 2009, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. 

Additionally, reaction time accounts for a large portion of the time it takes to come to a complete stop on the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the average driver’s reaction time to a roadway obstruction is 1.5 seconds, during which a car will travel 76 feet at 30 miles per hour, or 143 feet at 65 miles per hour, and extra distance must be added for brake time. 

Distractions while driving add to this reaction time, increasing the likelihood of an accident during sudden traffic halts. This hands-free law could work to reduce the number of distracted driving accidents. 

Read a summary of the bill here. 

Electric scooters must obey the rules of the road

As electric scooters, such as Lime and Bird, become more popular, legislators are acting on some of the potential safety hazards by officially deeming them “motor vehicles.” 

This change means scooters must be driven in accordance with the general rules of the road; they must be parked in a location that does not impede vehicular or pedestrian traffic, they cannot be driven by anyone under the legal age for driving (16 in most cases), they cannot be driven over 15 miles per hour and they cannot be ridden by more than the intended number of passengers, which is normally one. 

DUI restrictions also now apply to scooter drivers. 

These legal changes could help reduce the number of scooter-related injuries, particularly for first-time riders. According to an Austin Public Health study conducted last year, about a third of injured scooter drivers in the city were first-timers. 

Read a summary of the bill here. 

Couples cannot be married by just any one of their friends

As of next month, Tennessee will not recognize online ordination for marriage officiation, so unless a couple is close with an ordained minister, Tennesseans cannot officially have friends solemnize their marriages. 

Couples married by someone with an online ordination prior to July 1 will still be considered legally married, so no need to plan a second ceremony. 

Read a summary of the bill here. 

Colleges will be required to address the state’s growing suicide rate

A new law requires state colleges to create a suicide prevention plan and distribute it to all students, faculty and staff at least once per semester. 

In 2017, Tennessee saw 142 suicides from those aged 10 to 24, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students worldwide. 

In Williamson County, Columbia State Community College is working on drafting their plan, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Cissy Holt. 

“We are working with the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network to develop a suicide prevention plan at Columbia State, which will include training for all of our students, faculty and staff,” she said. “In addition, each year we host a variety of activities to promote awareness and provide students access to suicide prevention resources through the college’s counseling center.” 

Read a summary of the bill here. 

People can now be charged with indecent exposure in restrooms

Though the rules for indecent exposure have not changed, including the condition that exposure must be intentional, this law includes some new settings. 

Multi-person restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and showers designated for a single sex will now be considered public places as they pertain to indecent exposure rules if the offender is of the opposite sex for which the room is designated. 

Current conditions which exempt mothers breastfeeding their children from prosecution will still apply. 

Read a summary of the bill here. 

REAL IDs allowing boarding of domestic flights will become available

Pretty soon, a standard driver’s license will not be enough to get you onboard a domestic flight — that is, flights within the boundaries of the U.S. But citizens have a little more time to prepare. 

The REAL ID Act of 2005 is not a state law. It’s a federal law requiring U.S. residents to transition by Oct. 1, 2020 from their standard issued driver’s licenses and IDs to REAL IDs, which meet increased security standards, if they wish to access certain places without a passport. Starting July 1, REAL IDs will become available. 

Though these new IDs are optional, they will allow access to commercial aircrafts, federal buildings, military bases and nuclear power plants, where standard IDs will not as of Oct. 1, 2020. Without a REAL ID, a passport or other TSA-approved identification will be required to access these places. 

This transition shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, though, as the cost to obtain a REAL ID will be the same as the cost to renew a standard driver’s license

However, even for those with a valid ID, a few documents will be required to get a REAL ID: proof of citizenship or legal presence, such as a birth certificate or U.S. visa; proof of social security number, such as a social security card or a payroll stub; and two documents with proof of state residency, such as a utility bill from the last four months and a driver’s license. 

Find out more about REAL IDs here. 

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