Metro Police hold driver awareness class for teens

Metro Police will hold a distracted driving class on Aug. 18. (WSMV file photo)

Look at the drivers around you as the I-Team did and you’ll see plenty of them texting and driving. So why aren't the police enforcing the law against texting behind the wheel? Turning your attention away for a few seconds can be disastrous.

In 2017, 723 people were killed or seriously injured in distracted driving crashes in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Lynn Gillespie and her son were lucky to survive.

In March of 2017, they were on a two-lane road in Maury County and had no way to avoid a driver swerving towards them.

"Ravine or head-on crash?" Lynn Gillespie said was the split-second choice she had to make that day. "I just froze."

An eyewitness said the other driver was texting.

"BAM. Hit us. It was done," Gillespie said.

Her injured hand still isn't right.

"I drop a lot of things," she said.

Tennessee passed a law in 2009 making texting behind the wheel illegal, but if you observe the drivers around you, you'd hardly know it.

But why isn't the state's texting law stopping people?

Our News 4 I-Team investigation discovered that few people get cited under the texting law, and when they do, not much happens.

In traffic court in Nashville, a ticket for texting behind the wheel costs $107 when you add in court costs.

However, the I-Team discovered Metro Police don't cite many texting drivers.

In all of 2017, Metro Police wrote 149 tickets for texting or distracted driving.

On average, only 60 percent of those ticketed admit their guilt and pay the fine. About 30 percent of those ticketed chose to go to traffic school instead.

A Metro Police spokesperson said they don't use the texting law much because it's hard to prove.

Even proving that texting caused a crash is difficult without witness or an admission.

"Not many people walk up to you at a crash scene and say, 'It's my fault, I was distracted,' said Col. Tracy Trott, deputy director of the TN Dept. of Safety. Trott said distracted driving has become a far bigger public safety concern than even drunken driving.

You'd think that proving that a texting driver caused a crash would be easy, by using cell phone records, but Attorney David Weissman said it’s not.

"It's very easy for me to get time records from the phone company," Weissman explained. "But to line it up with the exact moment of impact is a challenge."

To prevent distracted driver crashes, police and troopers are trying other tactics.

They are turning to campaigns to educate drivers.

Williamson County Schools uses a simulator to show students how difficult it is to control a car if you are texting.

Law enforcement officials have turned to a broader state law to ticket distracted drivers by citing them for failing to us "due care."

According to statistics provided by the Davidson Co. Traffic Court, Metro Police have written an increasing number of citations in the last three years.

Those statistics also show MNPD officers have written a far smaller number of citations for texting behind the wheel or distracted driving.

Metro Police "due care" citations: 2015: 5,722 2016: 11,581 2017: 15,897Metro Police texting/distracted driving citations: 2015 - 137 2016 - 140 2017 - 149 Data from the TN Dept of Safety and Homeland Security reveals that Tennessee Highway Patrol Troopers also wrote far more tickets for “due care” than for the state’s texting law:

State Trooper Texting Citations: 2015: 1,722 2016: 1,968 2017: 3,557State Trooper “Due Care” Citations: 2015: 5,722 2016: 11,581 2017: 15,897Attorney David Weissman said law enforcement should be enforcing the law more vigorously.

“We need greater enforcement," Weissman said. "We need police officers, each and every time they observe it, to pull people over and ticket them."

Weissman also has a message for drivers.

"Put your phone down," Weissman said. "Don't ruin somebody's life. Don't ruin your own life."

It’s advice Lynn Gillespie, the victim of a head-on crash, said she hopes other drivers will take to heart.

"My lesson for texting drivers? Don't do it," Gillespie said.

Is there a way to make drivers smarter about using their smartphones?

Some states make it illegal to use a phone unless it's hands-free, a law proposed but never passed in Tennessee.

If you’d like to learn more about distracted driving laws or tell your personal story, check out this site: http://stopdistractions.org/

Weissman recommends parents download an app called Life360 so they can know if their children are texting and driving.

You can learn more about by visiting Life360.com

Weissman also endows a $1,000 scholarship for college students in hopes of encouraging them to think creatively about ways to stop texting and driving.

To learn more and apply, visit nashvilletnlaw.com/scholarship.

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 I-Team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

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