When it comes to putting down the phone and keeping focused on the road, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office says drivers have been responsible since the new ‘hands-free’ law went into effect on July 1st.
“For a Sherriff’s Department, we have a lot of work that we’ve got to do other than just traffic enforcement,” said patrol sergeant Jacob Yeager. “And as far as [hands-free] goes, it seems like it’s going pretty good so far.”
In the month since enforcement started, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office has yet to issue any paid citations for violations.
“We have recorded about four warnings. That’s an actual written warning that we write on a slip of paper and give to the driver,” said Yeager, noting this number doesn’t include verbal warnings.
The Kingsport Police Department has issued more hands-free violation charges than the county.
“Just during the first month of this bill, there have been 35 people charged either with an actual paid citation or with a warning through the state court, the state T.C.A. violation,” said public information officer Tom Patton.
Kingsport officers say they’ve been taking it easier on drivers because the law is so new. Most drivers are receiving warnings rather than citations, but this could soon change.
“That warning period, that grace period, again, however informal it was, is going to go away at some point,” Patton said. “And you’re going to see more people getting actual paid citations rather than warnings.”
Kingsport violation totals might start to look more like the Johnson City Police Department’s numbers. According to JCPD officer Stephen Bowman, the department issued 36 citations and 40 written warnings during July.
With school starting again, officers are prepared to watch the activity of younger drivers.
“They might not be as experienced at driving,” Yeager said. “They might not know as much about the law as far as what you can and cannot do. We want to make sure that they have the knowledge and everything. That way they can be in compliance.”
But for drivers of all ages, the punishment for violating hands-free still depends on the officer.
“Just how bad was somebody driving at the point? What other offenses have they committed because of that distraction with a cell phone? So a lot of that is going to go into play on what the officer chooses to do as far as enforcement,” Patton said.