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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.

Tennessee lawmakers are working to instate a hands-free cell phone ban for all drivers. 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, though it had only accounted for 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 Operation Incognito, 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, named the oldest county in Tennessee, is also 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 of Hawkins, which only 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 located approximately 20 miles south of Nashville. However, drivers were 29% less likely to be in a distracted driving crash in Nashville's Davidson County 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 have taken on distracted driving in recent years, working to educate students 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 blitz in 2018, with a strong emphasis on eliminating 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 previously 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

RankLarge Counties (Over 50,000 Residents)Mid-Sized Counties (20,000 - 49,999 Residents)
1ShelbyDickson
2WashingtonLoudon
3WilliamsonLawrence
4MontgomeryCheatham
5RutherfordCarroll
6PutnamBedford
7WilsonMonroe
8MadisonMarshall
9DavidsonMacon
10MauryHenderson

Safest Counties for Distracted Driving Crashes

Even among the safest large and mid-sized counties in Tennessee, most did see 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, whereas crashes increased by 129% in the state overall.

Counties with the Least Distracted Driving Crashes

RankLarge Counties (Over 50,000 Residents)Mid-Sized Counties (20,000 - 49,999 Residents)
1HawkinsGrainger
2HamblenScott
3CarterMcNairy
4RoaneClaiborne
5TiptonMorgan
6JeffersonWeakley
7CumberlandLauderdale
8KnoxHardeman
9CoffeeLincoln
10BradleyOverton

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 they had in 2008, with nearly 12% seeing an increase of 200% or more.

Rhea, a mid-sized county located 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 of 67% in distracted driving crashes.

Counties with Most Drastic Increases in Distracted Driving Crashes

RankLarge Counties% ChangeMid-Sized Counties% ChangeSmall Counties% Change
1Shelby343%Rhea1,325%Lake900%
2Washington325%Carroll500%Fentress900%
3Hamilton203%Henry205%Houston200%
*Large: 50,000+ residents, Mid-Sized: 20,000-49,999 residents, Small: under 19,999

Distracted Driving Laws in Tennessee

In Tennessee, there are nuanced laws that apply to using a phone while driving that could make it confusing for drivers when assessing their behaviors. Age, location and speed all currently come into play when reviewing distracted driving laws. Statewide, it is illegal for all drivers to text, and if you are under 18 or in a school zone, it is prohibited to touch your phone at all. However, there is a grey area if the car is stopped at a traffic signal, like a red light or stop sign. For those over the age of 18, there is no handheld ban currently in place, and they can hold their phone freely when driving.

Currently, if you are caught interacting with your cell phone in school zones, the penalty is a maximum $50 fine and 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.

As of 2019, Tennessee lawmakers are considering a hands-free policy statewide and for all drivers. This would require all drivers to use a mounted or worn device, such as a watch or Bluetooth, to talk on the phone. Tennessee would join a dozen plus other states making distracted driving a priority and taking steps to eliminate preventable crashes and deaths from this hazard.

Complete List of Counties in Tennessee and Their Distracted Driving Rankings

RankCountyDistracted Driving Crash Rate Per 1,000 Residents% Change from 2008 to 2017Absolute Change from 2008 to 2017
1Shelby7.83343.49%5,623
2Washington7.19325.00%676
3Williamson6.19129.55%640
4Montgomery6.17142.69%625
5Rutherford5.56144.15%862
6Putnam4.89103.45%180
7Wilson4.85107.12%286
8Madison4.5152.76%153
9Davidson4.4268.74%1,128
10Maury4.1139.33%94
11Sumner3.9819.22%103
12Sullivan3.78182.38%383
13Hamilton3.63202.72%819
14Haywood3.51100.00%33
15Sevier3.273.52%10
16Houston3.20200.00%18
17Moore3.1466.67%8
18Greene3.07122.11%116
19McMinn3.04133.82%91
20Trousdale2.9264.29%9
21Blount2.89111.90%188
22Robertson2.8725.83%39
23Dickson2.7889.04%65
24Loudon2.7654.02%47
25Anderson2.6657.48%73
26Lawrence2.65146.67%66
27Unicoi2.5788.00%22
28Cheatham2.5323.75%19
29Carroll2.52500.00%60
30Smith2.5029.73%11
31Bedford2.40120.41%59
32Monroe2.38120.83%58
33Bradley2.33113.89%123
34Marshall2.299.38%6
35Fentress2.23900.00%36
36Coffee2.22112.73%62
37Knox2.2135.90%252
38Macon2.2081.48%22
39Henderson2.1642.86%18
40Cocke2.1663.83%30
41Cannon2.1031.82%7
42Warren2.0897.62%41
43Franklin2.07193.10%56
44Cumberland2.03123.53%63
45Dyer1.8826.32%15
46Jefferson1.8768.42%39
47Giles1.87111.54%29
48White1.82-16.07%-9
49Tipton1.80139.13%64
50Henry1.79205.26%39
51Rhea1.791325.00%53
52Fayette1.74168.00%42
53Hickman1.7061.54%16
54Marion1.7037.14%13
55Gibson1.67124.32%46
56Campbell1.6783.78%31
57Benton1.64-3.57%-1
58Stewart1.5850.00%7
59Roane1.5313.70%10
60Clay1.53100.00%6
61Obion1.51200.00%32
62Carter1.48107.32%44
63Hardin1.4640.74%11
64Grundy1.4666.67%8
65Polk1.43140.00%14
66Johnson1.4373.33%11
67Overton1.40-6.06%-2
68Meigs1.36100.00%8
69Lake1.28900.00%9
70Lincoln1.2336.67%11
71Chester1.23110.00%11
72Hardeman1.2194.12%16
73Decatur1.19-12.50%-2
74Humphreys1.19-15.38%-4
75Lauderdale1.1994.12%16
76Wayne1.18122.22%11
77Weakley1.1156.00%14
78Van Buren1.0850.00%2
79Morgan1.0564.29%9
80Hamblen0.99138.46%36
81Lewis0.99200.00%8
82Sequatchie0.9244.44%4
83Crockett0.8918.18%2
84Hawkins0.8619.51%8
85DeKalb0.85-42.86%-12
86Claiborne0.75118.18%13
87McNairy0.7346.15%6
88Scott0.677.14%1
89Perry0.6366.67%2
90Pickett0.590.00%0
91Hancock0.59n/a4
92Union0.52-16.67%-2
93Grainger0.4442.86%3
94Bledsoe0.390.00%0
95Jackson0.34-66.67%-8

Methodology

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.

Callie McGill

Callie is a Content Marketing Research Analyst at ValuePenguin, with a focus on insurance.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.