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Rules of the Road

Reference Number: MTAS-327
Reviewed Date: 12/21/2021

Many cities have an ordinance in their codes that adopts misdemeanors of the state of Tennessee. The cities rely on that ordinance to try cases involving violations of state traffic laws in the municipal court. T.C.A. § 16-18-302 specifically authorizes cities to adopt state criminal offenses that are Class C misdemeanors by reference, mirroring or substantially duplicating the state statutes. This means that after passing a single ordinance adopting the Rules of the Road (T.C.A. Title 55, Chapter 8) and certain other traffic violations (T.C.A. Title 55, Chapter 10), the city can try any of the individual statutes as though they were city ordinances without having to adopt individual ordinances for each of those traffic laws.

In the Supreme Court case mentioned earlier in which the Court determined that the $50 limitation on fines imposed without a jury applies to violations of municipal ordinances, the Court discussed ordinances adopting traffic offenses from the state code by reference. The Court did not rule that such ordinances are unconstitutional, however, it did express a concern that municipalities adopting the statutes by reference, and enforcing those regulations could infringe upon the constitutional and statutory authority of the local district attorney general to make decisions regarding the prosecution of state regulations. City of Chattanooga v. Davis and Barrett v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, 54 S.W.3d 248 (Tenn. 2001).