If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of Tennessee, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, use the section numbers provided to search the Tennessee State Legislation database.
Here are the Tennessee car accident and traffic laws we’ll cover:
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
The driver of a vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian has reached the halfway point of the crosswalk, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the crosswalk as to be in danger.
Pedestrian Control Signals
Whenever special pedestrian control signals, exhibiting the words “Walk”, “Wait”, or “Don’t Walk” are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:
- Walk. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
- Wait or Don’t Walk. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian’s crossing on the Walk signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island.
Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks
Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.
Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.
Pedestrians on Roadway
Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway.
Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it’s shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.
Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks
The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian to avoid collision.
Drivers to Exercise Due Care
The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver’s horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or confused or incapacitated person.
Pedestrians Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any confused or incapacitated pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver’s horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution.
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Driving on Right Side of Roadway
Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- Upon a roadway divided into three (3) marked lanes for traffic
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
Passing On the Left
Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane.
Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Limitations on Overtaking on the Left
Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within one hundred (100) feet of oncoming traffic.
Drivers may not drive on the left side of the roadway under the following conditions:
- When approaching the crest of a grade or a curve where the driver’s view is obstructed
- within three hundred (300) feet or such distance as to create a hazard should another vehicle approach from the opposite direction
- When approaching within one hundred (100) feet of any intersection or railroad crossing
- When the view is obstructed when approaching within one hundred (100) feet of any bridge, viaduct or tunnel
Passing On the Right
Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
- On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
Following Too Closely
A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.
A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices
Drivers must not use a handheld mobile device to send or read text messages while driving, expect to read, select, or enter a phone number for the purpose of making or receiving a phone call.
The driver of a school bus must not drive while using a handheld mobile telephone, except for the sole purpose of contacting a central dispatch or emergency services.
Drivers and Intersections
When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver in the right.
Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections
A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway
The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from a private road or driveway must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on the highway.
Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic
Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.
Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
All motorcyclists of two-wheeled motorcycles must wear helmets while riding on roadways. If the motorcycle is not equipped with a windshield, then motorcyclists must also wear protective eyewear while riding on roadways.
Motorcycles and Headlights
Every motorcycle riding on a roadway must have at least one (1) and not more than two (2) two lighted headlamps.
Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements
A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Alcohol and Minors
A driver who is sixteen (16) years of age and older but under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway under the following conditions:
- If their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is more than 0.02%
- If they are under the influence of alcohol
- If they are under the influence of any intoxicant including the combination of alcohol and drugs
Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, including other drivers, passengers, and/ or passersby must give their name, address and the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving, and upon request and if available, show their driver license (or operator’s or chauffeur’s license) to the driver or passengers of the other vehicle or any injured persons.
Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person must immediately stop and remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 55-10-103.
Section 55-10-103 reads in part that the driver must give their name, address and the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving, and upon request and if available, show their driver license (or operator’s or chauffeur’s license) to the driver or passengers of the other vehicle or any injured persons.
Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property
A driver involved in an accident resulting only in damage to property or another car which is driven or attended by any person must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 55-10-103.
Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property
A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.
Once located, the driver who caused the accident must give the names and addresses of the driver and owner of the car.
If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving the names and addresses of the driver and owner of the car, a description of what happened, and the relevant insurance policy information.
Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or total damage to all property resulting in fifty ($50) dollars or more must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office.
If the driver is physically unable to give immediate notice and there is another occupant in the car, the other occupant must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office.
If the driver is unable to give notice, and there are no other occupants, and the driver is also not the owner of the car, then the owner of the car must report the accident within twenty (20) days of the accident.
Sections 55-10-106 and 55-10-109
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or total damage to all property resulting in four hundred ($400) dollars or more must forward a written report of the accident to the department of safety with twenty (20) days of the accident.
Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments
In Tennessee you can buy a copy of an accident report online within seven (7) days of an accident. To buy a copy of an accident report, visit the following page on the Department of Safety website.
Accident Report Forms
To obtain an accident report form, visit the Department of Safety’s guide for car owners and drivers.
Open Alcohol Container Law
A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is traveling on Tennessee roadways.
An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle, in the possession of a passenger, in a closed utility or glove compartment, or in an area of the vehicle not normally occupied by a passenger.
Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways.
In Tennessee, a driver is guilty of the offense of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
Ignition Interlock Device
A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.
An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
Sections 55-10-409 and 55-10-417
Tennessee Dram Shop Law
Tennessee has a Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.
A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.
Under Tennessee law, a person who sells alcohol to a minor or a visibly intoxicated person is liable for the actions of the minor or intoxicated person if it is determined that beyond a reasonable doubt the sale of the alcohol to the person was the likely cause of the injury or death that occurred.
Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits
In the State of Tennessee, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:
- At least $25,000 per person
- At least $50,000 for two (2) or more people
- $15,000 per occurrence for property damage
Tennessee Insurance Information
For information about insurance requirements, see the Department of Safety website.
Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
In Tennessee, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.
If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident.
If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.
Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.
After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.
Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.
The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.
In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 29-11-102
Right of Way: Section 25-8-129
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 55-8-199
Tennessee’s No Fault Car Insurance
In Tennessee, drivers at fault for accidents are liable for the personal injury and property damage caused in the accident. A victim of a car accident can pursue compensation by filing a claim with their own insurance company, with the insurance company of the driver at fault, or by filing a lawsuit again the driver at fault.
Statute of Limitations
Tennessee has a three (3) year statute of limitations for property damage and one (1) year for personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a claim within three (3) years after an accident.
Sections 28-3-105 and 28-3-104
Small Claims Courts
In Tennessee, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $25,000.
Tennessee Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity
In Tennessee, there are a limited number of situations in which you can submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees.
You can only file a claim in the following categories. Some of those categories are included below:
- The negligent operation or maintenance of any vehicle
- Negligently created or maintained dangerous conditions on state-controlled real property
- Negligent care, custody or control of personal property
- Negligent construction of state sidewalks and buildings
- Dangerous conditions on state maintained highways
In Tennessee, you do not sue the government. Instead, you file a claim with the Tennessee Claims Commission. You must file your claim within one year of the date of the incident that caused the personal injury or property damage.
Sections 20-13-102 and 9-8-307
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