NASHVILLE -- Tennesseans who use handheld mobile phones while driving will face fines of up to $50 under a bill headed to Gov. Bill Lee for his consideration that cleared the Senate Tuesday.

House Bill 164 passed 23-7 vote with proponents arguing that it will curb a dangerous practice that has spurred crashes while opponents countered that the state's distracted driving law already addresses the issue.

During debate, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Art Swann, R-Maryville, said motorists won't be inconvenienced, arguing they can easily purchase a device for $6 to affix a phone to their dash or else use Bluetooth.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, scolded fellow Republicans for bringing the bill.

"Now as Republicans at home, we talk about less government and less regulations, but when once we get down here we get caught up in more government and more regulations."

Noting that the state will add points to a driver's record if caught under the would-be law, risking boosting their insurance rates, Niceley offered an amendment barring the state from imposing points for using handheld devices.

"If you'll put this amendment on, I'll hold my nose and vote for this bill," Niceley promised.

Retorted Swann: "Let's not kid ourselves here, this is simply an effort to kill the bill." 

He moved to table the amendment which senators did on a 19-2 vote.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, voiced concerns about the bill, citing studies showing the issue is not handheld phones as much but talking in a vehicle period.

"This is all about focus," Bell said. 

Niceley related a personal story about former Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, noting how a handheld cell phone saved his life. 

Niceley recalled getting concerned about Floyd some years back when lawmakers left Nashville late at night for a long drive home.

"Something told me I better call old Richard. He said 'Frank, you saved my life and your phone just woke me up.' That's a true story," Niceley said.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, told colleagues that figures show one out of every four vehicle collisions in Tennessee is due to cell phone use. Moreover, he said, Tennessee leads the nation on distracted driving deaths

The House bill was carried by Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Johnson City, with Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, a strong proponent. 

Hazlewood said Georgia passe a similar law and it's led to a dramatic fall in distracted driving crashes.

Families of persons killed by distracted drivers organized to press for the legislation.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550