Tennessee Highway Patrol gets tough on distracted driving

FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. - A grant from the Tennessee Highway Safety Office recently funded a distracted driving simulator for Lincoln County, one of about 10 in the middle Tennessee region.

The simulators are just one way the Tennessee Highway Patrol is working to stop distracted driving in the state.

Tony Burnett, law enforcement liaison for the Governor's Highway Safety Office, says, "in Tennessee, we're doing all we can.

"One of the things we're doing is public education through commercials about distracted driving," he says.

In a recent public service spot, a trooper posed the question:  "What's the last thing you want to hold in your hand? Your cell phone or your family?"

Burnett adds, "no matter how safe you make a vehicle, no matter how safe you make your child's phone, no matter how many seat belts you make 'em wear...nothing can take the place of the responsibility of the driver."

Although texting while driving is illegal in Tennessee, enforcement is always a challenge.

Burnett says law enforcement has had to get creative to catch distracted drivers, who are quick to put the phone down whenever they see a marked patrol unit.

One solution was a marked 18-wheeler. Despite the state logo, many drivers didn't seem to notice the big rig was a highway patrol vehicle. The cab gave officers a perfect vantage point to spot dangerous behavior behind the wheel.

Another 18-wheeler is used as part of the public education effort. It's loaded with four distracted driving simulators and travels to high schools around the state.

As the trooper in the PSA concludes, "we're committed to saving your life. We need you to commit to being a safe driver. We care about you."