Blocking a Public Street is a Crime in Tennessee

A traffic safety bill makes blocking public highways and streets in an area restricting emergency vehicle access a misdemeanor

In April of 2017, SB 0902 was signed into law by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. The law criminalizes obstructing streets and highways in a way that would restrict emergency vehicle access. Sponsored by state Representative Jimmy Matlock, SB 0902 took effect on July 1, 2017. Violation of the new law is considered a misdemeanor, resulting in a $200 fine if convicted.

Under the new law, an emergency vehicle includes:

  • Any vehicle of a governmental department or public service corporation responding to an emergency;
  • Ambulances;
  • Any vehicle from a police department; or
  • Any vehicle from a fire department.

While billed as traffic safety legislation, the new law came under some scrutiny before passing through the state legislature. SB 0902 and other traffic safety regulation bills, not just in Tennessee but across the country, fell into some controversy as people raised accusation that they were meant to be anti-protestor bills. Members of the public and those associated with civil rights organizations see these supposed safety measures as a response by legislators in states all over the U.S. to the increase in protests since the last presidential election.

In January 2017, Tennessee resident Spence DesAuteles was standing in a crosswalk at a protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban when he and two other protestors were hit by a car. This is just one instance of protestor related pedestrian traffic accidents. Although it did not pass, there was a bill moving through the Tennessee legislature that would have exempted drivers who injured protestors blocking traffic from civil liability as long as they were “exercising due care.”