Shelby County sees increase in fatal crashes in 2020, THP says

Updated: Feb. 20, 2020 at 9:50 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Startling numbers show it's been a deadly year so far on Shelby County roadways.

The number of fatal traffic accidents has gone up significantly over this same time last year.

There's concern that distracted driving is leading to the increase.

When driving in Tennessee, you cannot have a phone anywhere on your body including your hand, shoulder or lap.

“Please put that phone down. Don't use your phone,” said Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesperson Chris Richardson.

Richardson says Shelby County roads are becoming increasingly more dangerous.

With all Shelby county law enforcement agencies reporting, there have been 6,051 crashes in Shelby County in 2020.

“Most of it is if you just pay attention, if you totally dedicate yourself to driving, there would be much less crashes,” said Richardson.

According to data released to WMC Action News 5, fatal crashes in other counties are actually decreasing or staying about the same compared to last year.

For example Davidson County has only had three additional traffic fatalities.

However in Shelby County from Jan. 1 to Feb. 20 of this year there have been 28 traffic fatalities, that’s 17 more deaths in Shelby County than the same time frame last year.

Sgt. Richardson says it’s too early to say for sure what’s leading to the increase.

Most of these cases are still under investigation, but says he hopes the state’s new Hands-Free law will help lower the number.

“Oh when you see someone really into a text message, looking down a lot, they may show the same signs of somebody under the influence of drugs, and you just don't know until you make the stop,” said Richardson.

Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers have made quite a few stops in Shelby County.

They have handed out 560 Hands-Free texting citations since the law went into effect July 1.

Memphis Police are not handing out the citations just yet. The Memphis City Council has not passed the necessary ordinance to give MPD the “go ahead” to start writing tickets.

The new Hands-Free laws does allow drivers to talk on the phone while driving, but you just can’t have it in your hand. Bluetooth and speakerphone is allowed.

However, there have been studies by the National Safety Council that show hands-free devices do not offer any safety benefit.

That agency says just talking on the phone is more than enough distraction.

Sgt. Richardson says the Hands-Free law is still a step in the right direction.

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