Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Aug. 29

The Cookeville Herald-Citizen on using cell phones while driving:

With schools back in session, Tech students back on campus and Tennesseans starting to become active again, traffic in Cookeville is increasing. Those of us who were out and about during the lockdowns are trying to get used the everyone else on the roadways again.

We ask that as we get used to going places again, everyone be patient. Remember, not everyone has been driving in Cookeville the past six months. New students at Tech don’t know lanes end abruptly. They don’t know our usual traffic patterns.

But, more importantly, we’ve noticed something else that’s increasing like the traffic.

The use of cell phones while driving.

More than a year ago, a law took effect in Tennessee requiring use of a hands-free device while talking on the phone and driving. Texting while driving is also illegal. It took a little while, but it seemed by the end of last year, most drivers got the message and we didn’t see a tremendous amount of phone use while driving.

But it seems that in the six months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, drivers have forgotten the law. It is still illegal to text while driving. It is still illegal to hold your phone in your hand, whether to your ear or using the speakerphone, while driving.

We have observed many drivers ignoring the law. It may be that they have forgotten. It may be they never knew. Or it may be that they think the law doesn’t apply to them.

A quick message — If you’re driving, the law applies to you.

And although it appears to be mostly the younger crowd on their phones while driving, we’ve seen it in all ages.

So we have some recommendations.

First, put your phone down. Don’t talk on the phone while you’re driving. No conversation is worth a life.

Second, we encourage the law enforcement officers in our area to enforce the law. And a warning is not sufficient. Most people learn the lesson better and quicker when there’s money involved.

Third, we encourage parents and grandparents to remind their young drivers that putting the phone down is not a suggestion. It’s the law.

To borrow a phrase from the state’s seat belt campaign many years ago, “The life you save may be your own.”



Aug. 29

The Johnson City Press on police officers patrolling the interstate:

Erwin wants its police officers to begin patrolling the interstate. That’s fine, as long as the town’s aim is to increase traffic safety and not to fill public coffers.

Press Senior Reporter Sue Guinn Legg wrote this week about an ordinance under consideration by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen allowing officers to enforce traffic laws along the section of Interstate 26 within the town’s borders. The ordinance, which is supported by Police Chief Regan Tilson, was unanimously approved by the board on its first reading Monday.

Much of the board’s discussion seemed to be focused on speeding in the interstate corridor, although Tilson said the ordinance will also allow officers to help with traffic control at accident scenes or when utility or road workers are present.

Most speed limits are set with driver safety in mind. When studying an area to propose a safe driving speed, traffic engineers consider road conditions, crash history and the normal rate of traffic flow. On interstates in Tennessee, speed limits are generally set by state law.

Now, if you mention a speed trap to someone responsible for traffic enforcement, you’ll likely get a blank stare or an annoyed brow furrow. We’ve been told countless times by police officers over the years that “speed traps don’t exist.”

If you’re driving faster than the speed limit, they argue, you’re breaking the law, and are subject to a penalty. Legally that’s true, but, as with most things in life, it’s not so black and white.

Problems arise when municipalities and departments start viewing speed enforcement as a money-making venture, rather than promoting public safety.

The incentive to monetize a stretch of roadway can be tantalizing, especially for cash-strapped towns looking for ways to boost revenues without raising taxes. A good year of collecting speeding fines can make a town reliant on that revenue. Maybe the next year, leaders will plan for it in the budget.

When a certain amount of speeding fines are counted on to cover operational expenses, there’s a lot of pressure to keep writing those tickets. Call it what you like, because this is another thing law enforcement administrators will deny the existence of, but departmental expectations for a certain number of tickets are quotas.

Ticket quotas aren’t made with public safety in mind, they’re based on revenue generation.

Once an area’s heavy-handed approach to speed limit enforcement earns it a speed trap designation from travelers, it’s tough to shake that reputation. Drivers start to avoid those routes to stay out of the grasp of the long arm of Buford T. Justice.

We’d hate for visitors to pass us by because of a bad reputation.

We want our roads to be safe, and we know how easy it is for drivers coming down off the mountain on I-26 to creep up above the posted speed limit.

If our state troopers and our sheriff’s deputies need help out there watching for unsafe drivers, Erwin’s officers should lend a hand.

If the town is looking for a way to pad its pockets by abusing the spirit of the law, we hope they do a U-turn.



Aug. 27

The Kingsport Times News on drug overdoses:

On average, someone in Sullivan County dies every week from a drug overdose. And on average, someone overdoses on drugs every other day in Sullivan County.

It is not possible that in all of these overdose and drug death cases, other family members were unaware of the drug use. Those folks have a choice. They can go through the incredible pain and suffering of having a loved one taken from them forever, or they can notify authorities who will provide the user a way out.

That’s the message from those on the front lines fighting drug use, including District Attorney General Barry Staubus and other members of the Sullivan County Drug Related Death Task Force.

Between March 1 and Aug. 1, 22 people died in Sullivan County as the result of drug overdoses, often from using heroin laced with other drugs such as fentanyl, which has become a common lethal additive. The deaths were among 97 overdoses reported during that period, Staubus said. He and others said those numbers reflect an upward trend in a county already known for having one of the worst drug overdose problems in Tennessee.

They’re asking for your help through a telephone hotline. Callers can remain anonymous. The task force especially hopes to reach out to family members and friends of heroin users. “Don’t wait too late,” Staubus said. “Don’t wait until your loved one dies before you call in and tell us about things. Come forward and maybe we can save their life.”

The task force is also seeking the public’s assistance in identifying individuals who are responsible for the increase in overdoses in Sullivan County. Staubus said the overwhelming majority of overdoses have been a result of the use of heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine.

“Too many of our families have suffered immeasurable losses as a result of the drug epidemic that ravages our county,” Staubus said. “These drugs are illegal and are being brought to our county by drug dealers who have no concern for our children, brothers and sisters, parents or friends. These drug dealers are driven by the money they make at the expense of our citizens’ lives and well-being. Enough is enough.”

“We’re in a dire place right now,” TBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Chuck Kimbril said of the number of overdoses and overdose deaths occurring in Sullivan County. “We want to bring awareness to people. If they think they’re using heroin, they’re most likely not. We’re not getting pure heroin anymore.”

Kimbril said dealers are mixing a lot of other drugs into what they’re selling as heroin, and that’s a major factor in the overdose rate. Heroin with fentanyl added is the biggest deadly combination, Kimbril said.

Most of the drugs in question are being brought to Sullivan County by dealers from other states, Kimbril said, including North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio and Georgia. The dealers, he said, can make twice as much money here than if they sold the drugs where they live. Sullivan County offers less competition, a ready market, and a higher abuse rate.

“What we’re asking is for people to be a little more vigilant,” Kimbril said. “If they have a family member that has a drug problem, specifically using heroin or what they think is heroin — we’re asking that they call and let us know if they happen to know who their associates are so we can narrow in on the people supplying this deadly combination.”

“The information that our citizens provide is not only invaluable, but necessary since law enforcement cannot do this alone,” Staubus said. “We are asking that anyone with information that can help our efforts in combating this problem contact the Drug Task Force Hotline at 423-323-8615 or 1 (800) TBIFIND.”

Callers can remain anonymous. The information you provide might save the life of someone you love.