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Which is the Worst County in Tennessee for Distracted Driving?

In Tennessee, there were 129% more distracted driving accidents in 2017 than 2008. The state's largest county, Shelby, reported over 5,600 more distracted driving crashes in 2017 than 9 years prior, accounting for 40% of the total increase across Tennessee during this time.
Driving and texting
Driving and texting Source: Getty Images

Effective July 1, 2019, it is illegal in Tennessee to hold a cell phone while operating a vehicle. What is the reason? A sharp increase in distracted driving-related crashes might have something to do with it. Statewide, there are 3.91 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents annually.

Worst counties for distracted driving crashes

1. Shelby County

  • 7.83 Distracted Driving Crashes Per 1,000 Residents

  • 5,623 More Distracted Driving Crashes in 2017 Than 2008

Shelby County, home of Memphis, accounted for nearly 30% of all distracted driving crashes in 2017, up from 15% of all crashes statewide in 2008. This county is not only the largest in terms of population and geographical area but also had the highest rate of change compared to other large counties: 343% more crashes reported in 2017 than 2008. Law enforcement has taken note of the severity in Memphis, recently launching, which is aimed at catching distracted drivers.

2. Washington County

  • 7.19 Distracted Driving Crashes Per 1,000 Residents

  • 676 More Distracted Driving Crashes in 2017 Than 2008

Washington, the oldest county in Tennessee, is home to East Tennessee University, which has a student population of over 17,000. The county reported a 325% increase in distracted driving crashes in the years analyzed. Washington neighbors the safest large county, Hawkins, which reported 49 distracted driving crashes in 2017.

3. Williamson County

  • 6.19 Distracted Driving Crashes Per 1,000 Residents

  • 640 More Distracted Driving Crashes in 2017 Than 2008

Williamson County is only approximately 20 miles south of Nashville, which is in Davidson County. Drivers were 29% less likely to be in a distracted driving crash in Davidson than Williamson. Notably, Davidson reported 1,635 more crashes than Williamson, yet, given the smaller population of Williamson, drivers were still more likely to be involved in a crash. Williamson County Schools has been working to educate students about distracted driving in recent years, in an effort to reduce fatalities.

4. Montgomery County

  • 6.17 Distracted Driving Crashes Per 1,000 Residents

  • 625 More Distracted Driving Crashes in 2017 Than 2008

Montgomery County, bordering southern Kentucky, is home to the city of Clarksville. Together, Clarksville and Montgomery County’s police, sheriff and highway patrol agencies launched a distracted driving advertising blitz in 2018 to try to eliminate the behavior on the roads, and especially in school zones. In 2017, 1,063 crashes were reportedly caused by distracted driving, up 143% from 2008.

5. Rutherford County

  • 5.56 Distracted Driving Crashes Per 1,000 Residents

  • 862 More Distracted Driving Crashes in 2017 Than 2008

Bordering No. 3 Williamson County, Rutherford is the fifth most populated county in Tennessee. It reported 862 more distracted driving crashes in 2017 than 9 years prior, an increase of 144%. Rutherford’s sheriff's office has focused its efforts on stopping distracted drivers on Interstates 24 and 840. Interstate 24, which spans through Tennessee from Kentucky to Georgia, also runs though No. 4 Montgomery and No. 9 Davison counties.

Counties with the Most Distracted Driving Crashes

Large Counties (Over 50,000 Residents)
Mid-Sized Counties (20,000 - 49,999 Residents)

Safest counties for distracted driving crashes

In Tennessee, most of even the safest large and mid-sized counties saw an increase in crashes from 2008. But these counties average just 1.36 crashes per 1,000 residents, which is 65% lower than the state mean.

Knox County, the most populated safe county and home to the third most populated city in Tennessee, Knoxville, only saw a 36% increase in distracted driving crashes from 2008 to 2017. In the state overall, crashes increased by 129%.

Counties with the least distracted driving crashes

Large Counties (Over 50,000 Residents)
Mid-Sized Counties (20,000 - 49,999 Residents)

Counties with the most drastic change in distracted driving crashes in Tennessee

Every county in Tennessee reported crashes caused by distracted driving. However, some saw a steeper increase than others. Over 43% of counties saw at least double the number of crashes in 2017 than in 2008 — with nearly 12% seeing an increase of 200% or more.

Rhea, a mid-sized county approximately 40 miles northeast of Chattanooga, showed the sharpest increase at 1,325%. Jackson, a small county in central Tennessee, accounted for the most significant decrease, 67%, in distracted driving crashes.

Counties with most drastic increases in distracted driving crashes

Large Counties
% Change
Mid-Sized Counties
% Change
Small Counties
% Change

*Large: 50,000+ residents, Mid-Sized: 20,000-49,999 residents, Small: under 19,999

Distracted driving laws in Tennessee

Effective July 1, 2019, Tennessee lawmakers legalized a hands-free cell phone policy statewide and for all drivers. It requires all drivers to use a mounted or worn device, such as a watch or Bluetooth, to talk on the phone. Tennessee joins a dozen-plus other states in making distracted driving a priority and taking steps to eliminate preventable crashes and deaths from this hazard.

Currently, if you are caught using your cell phone in school zones, the penalty is a maximum $50 fine, and it is classified as a class C misdemeanor. The fine for texting while driving is also around $50, but a texting ticket will impact your driving record. Points added to your driving record could present complications and increases in your auto insurance costs. These fines may be adjusted as the hands-free law goes into effect.

Complete list of counties in Tennessee and their distracted driving rankings

Distracted Driving Crash Rate Per 1,000 Residents
% Change from 2008 to 2017
Absolute Change from 2008 to 2017
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ValuePenguin analyzed the total number of distracted driver crashes reported by the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security and Highway Patrol. This was compared to U.S. Census data across all Tennessee counties. By our definition, large counties have populations of more than 50,000 residents, mid-sized counties have populations of 20,000 to 49,999 residents, and small counties have populations under 19,999.