Driving in Knoxville - Everything You Need to Know
Knoxville, Tennessee is a very lovable city—from the charming restaurants and streets to the sounds of the music that fill the air, visitors can spend hours wandering around and exploring different places. What is the best way to get around Knoxville, TN when visiting? We describe everything you need to know if you plan to visit the Knoxville area, including how to get around and the best driving tips to ensure you have an exciting, fun, and safe time during your visit!
Major Knoxville Highways and Roads
Knoxville offers scenic trails and lakes, as well as vibrant urban life. To get around to these places, you will likely have to take your car on at least one of these major highways and roads:
- Interstate 40: Also called Tennessee’s Main Street, I-40 runs through three of Tennessee’s major cities —Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville. It connects Knoxville to Oak Ridge and Maryville and also passes through landmarks such as the University of Tennessee and the Knoxville Zoo.
- Interstate 640: Acting as a detour route, Interstate 640 links I-40 to north of Knoxville by connecting with Interstate 75, another essential highway. The I-640 thus serves to help with road construction blocks, accident stops, and traffic by a significant amount.
- Interstate 75: This highway makes its course along the western suburbs of Knoxville, encompassing Farragut and West Knoxville, and has several interchanges. Driving along this highway usually brings cases of heavy traffic, especially at the interchange fork between U.S. Route 70 and U.S. Route 11 (Kingston Pike), which leads to the West Hills neighborhood and West Town Mall. This is the busiest part of any highway in the state of Tennessee, so plan for some delay.
If you are looking to take a more scenic route to get around, some of the most beautiful drives in Knoxville, TN include:
- Rocky Top Trail: The Rocky Top Trail is one of the most scenic drives, with hours of winding road through the Great Smoky Mountains. You can follow U.S. Highway 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains and exit onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, embarking on the trail known as “America’s Favorite Drive.”
- Knoxville to Bulls Gap Loop: If you’re looking to explore the Holston River valleys, you can travel along this loop and visit small communities and towns that have been around since the early history of Tennessee.
- Gay Street: One of Knoxville’s most historic streets and located in the city downtown, Gay Street has been regarded by the American Planning Association as one of USA’s “Great Streets.” The Gay Street Bridge stretching across the Tennessee river links South Knoxville to downtown Knoxville.
- Top Secret Trail: Not the biggest secret, but this route can take you through parts of beautiful East Tennessee scenery and “best-kept secrets.
Although you will see some breathtaking views by driving around in your car, don’t forget to check out some of the incredible landmarks Knoxville is home to as well:
- The University of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee was founded in 1794, just two years before Tennessee became the 16th state of the United States. The beautiful student campus in Knoxville borders the Tennessee Rivers and is just southwest of Downtown Knoxville and southeast of West Knoxville.
- Market Square. This pedestrian mall, established in 1854, was initially intended to be a marketplace for regional county farmers. Now, the square is a multipurpose center, with some of Knoxville’s most popular shops and restaurants—many locals gather here at the end of the business day. You can find Market Square right in the heart of downtown Knoxville.
- Tennessee Theatre. This beautiful theatre is a movie palace located in downtown Knoxville. Originally built in 1928, it is considered Knoxville’s first skyscraper.
- Sunsphere Tower. You can find this historical landmark in World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville. It is 266 feet high, with a hexagonal steel truss structure. It is most notable for its 75-foot gold-colored glass sphere, which served as the symbol of the 1982 World’s Fair.
- World’s Fair Park. If you go to see the Sunsphere Tower, you’ll already be at World’s Fair Park. This public park in downtown Knoxville sits on the former 1982 fairgrounds that Knoxville hosted. The two remaining structures on the grounds are the Tennessee Amphitheater and the Sunsphere Tower.
- Old City. Old City may be “old,” but it is undeniably alive today. It has an alternative, edgy vibe and is home to many quirky boutiques, artisanal bakeries, coffee shops, and trendy restaurants.
Getting Around Knoxville and Public Transportation
Whether you are planning how to get to Knoxville or how to get around Knoxville, it is crucial to know the best ways to get around so that you do not have to spend time worrying about the directions for your destinations.
The McGhee Tyson Airport, a mere 12 miles away from downtown, provides flights to over 25 destinations within the US.
Downtown Knoxville operates a free trolley service consisting of three routes: the Blue Line, the Green Line, and the Orange Line, which transport people to attractions such as the Knoxville Convention Center, University of Tennessee, Gay Street, Old Knoxville City, and Market Square.
Electric Scooters are available to be rented for quick rides via the Link and VeoRide apps. The apps provide information about where scooters are available, where riding a scooter is permitted, and where to park.
Knoxville Area Transit (KAT)
The Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) offers bus, trolley, and paratransit services for those who are not able to use the regular bus services.
The Most Dangerous Roads and Intersections in Knoxville
Driving in Knoxville is generally no more difficult than driving in any other city and is in many ways better than other larger cities. However, the roads listed below are noteworthy and may be challenging to drive on for a traveler who has no local experience.
A major highway linking Sevierville to downtown Knoxville, Chapman Highway has seen 77 fatal car crashes between 2005 to 2019.
Canton Hollow Road
Owing to its steep and uneven bends, Canton Hollow Road has reduced visibility points. Moreover, it serves as a link to many key neighborhoods and is a hub of heavy traffic. An average of roughly 50 accidents occur on this road in a two-year period.
Joe Hinton Road
With many motor vehicles using this short stretch of less than a mile, Joe Hinton Road is simply unable to bear the congestion of traffic that it faces. Within a time period of two years, 33 accidents were reported.
Below is a map of the traffic hotspots around Knoxville. The majority of the traffic and more serious accidents fall along I-40 going through the city. The most congested and dangerous section is in the city center, where the I-40 connects to I-640 and I-275.
Here is a closer view of the most accident-prone areas of downtown Knoxville. As you can see, most of the accidents occur in downtown Knoxville, especially in the city region with important landmarks and tourist attractions, like the University of Tennessee, West Town Mall, Happy Holler Historic District, and Old Knoxville City:
Knoxville Traffic Updates
If you are driving through Knoxville and want to stay up to date on traffic flow and any updates that may affect your drive, check out the following user-friendly resources:
- The City of Knoxville Street, Traffic & Transit Road Conditions Updates—This is a live map that shows any road closures, construction sites, and TDOT SmartWay Traffic Cam updates in Knoxville.
- TDOT—You can access road and travel conditions or call 511.
- Call 311—You can use your phone to call 311 or 865-215-4311 to ask the customer service about updates and closure advisories.
However, if you are in an accident, it is crucial to first ensure your own safety and then move your car out of any traffic. You should then report the accident to the police so that they can write up an accident report. Always ensure that you gather all of the relevant information from the accident scene, such as the other driver’s name, contact information, and insurance information.
Knoxville Driving Laws
When driving throughout Knoxville, it is vital that you understand all of the driving laws for accident-free travel. We provide a basic overview of each of the relevant laws you should be aware of:
- Driving age: A person must be 16 years or older to drive in Knoxville. Young drivers with permits have driving restriction hours at night.
- International License: Tennessee does not recognize an international driving license; however, under certain circumstances, the state does recognize driving licenses issued by foreign nations. A non-resident of age 16 years or above may drive in Tennessee without a Tennessee state driving license if they possess a driving license issued by another state or country. Therefore, a visitor from a foreign country may legally drive if they have a driving license issued by their home country.
- Motorcycle Laws:
- Splitting Lanes—A person riding a motorcycle is not permitted to split lanes, according to Tennessee law.
- Helmet Laws—Tennessee has a Universal Helmet Law, which requires all persons riding a motorcycle, regardless of their age or driving experience, to wear a helmet.
- Self-Driving Vehicle Laws: Since 2016, car manufacturer facilities must complete a certification program through the Department of Safety before autonomous vehicles can be tested or operated on in the state of Tennessee.
- Drivers: Drivers have the responsibility of protecting pedestrians on our roads by staying alert, yielding at crossings, and exercising due care to avoid injuring people. In all situations, drivers must:
- Actively exercise care to avoid colliding with other drivers.
- Drive at a safe speed.
- Properly control the vehicle with two hands on the wheel.
- Devote his or her attention solely to operating the vehicle.
- Yield to pedestrians who are in marked crosswalks, alleyways, or driveways.
- Stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks in school zones and yield for pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks in school zones.
- Drivers Must Not: Use their hand-held mobile devices or pass another vehicle stopped at a crosswalk.
- Pedestrian Safety Laws: Tennessee is notorious for being one of the most dangerous places in the U.S. for pedestrians. For the safety of pedestrians, drivers must be aware of the different types of instructions in pedestrian safety laws:
- Pedestrians may use any road in the State of Tennessee that is not access controlled (like an interstate).
- Pedestrians may cross the road at any location unless restricted by local ordinance or adjacent signalized intersections.
- Pedestrians must use sidewalks when available, unless there is some obstruction that prevents their usage. If a sidewalk is not available, then pedestrians must walk on the road’s shoulder in the direction of oncoming traffic.
- When crossing the street outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk, pedestrians must yield to cars and trucks on the roadway.
- Marked Crosswalks—Some crosswalks use white paint striping or bricks to mark it as a crossing location for pedestrians; these are called marked crosswalks. Some marked crosswalks are not at intersections but between blocks; these are called mid-block crosswalks, and they may have signals to alert drivers. Drivers must yield to pedestrians in these crosswalks, whether signalized or not.
- Unmarked Crosswalks—Although most intersections in Tennessee don’t have any striping at all, they are still legally designated places for pedestrians to cross the street; these are called unmarked crosswalks, and drivers must still yield the right of way to pedestrians in this type of crosswalk.
- Pedestrians are not required to use a crosswalk (unless they are between adjacent signalized intersections or local ordinances have restricted their crossing). However, they must yield to motor vehicles on the roadway before crossing.
How to Get a Driver’s License in Knoxville
If you plan on staying in Knoxville for an extended period of time, you may need to get a valid driver license. For example, suppose you are a first-time applicant for a Tennessee driver’s license. You will have to apply and test for a Tennessee driver’s license at a Tennessee State Facility; you may need to reserve an appointment. Many Tennessee driving schools provide students with easy-to-learn driving lessons. While driver’s education classes are not a requirement for getting your Tennessee license, it can help you pass the driving test and ultimately be a safer driver on the road.
If you hold an out-of-state driver’s license, you must obtain a Tennessee driver’s license from a Tennessee State Facility within thirty days of establishing residency in Tennessee. If your residence address changes, you can mail the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security or stop in to notify your local Driver Services Center.
Parking in Knoxville
Downtown Knoxville has the option of using parking garages or parking lots, several of which are free of cost from Monday to Friday after 7 PM and on weekends. In addition, Parkopedia.com has a free app that reports the latest updates on parking-related information, such as availability in city-owned downtown garages and the number of parking spaces available at each garage.
In wintertime, Knoxville roads are subject to rain, sleet, and up to six inches of snow. Additionally, Knoxville is close to the Smoky Mountains, wherein the roads are narrow and windy, resulting in poor-visibility turns and uneven shoulders. Moreover, there are no gas stations in the Smoky Mountains. Therefore, it is essential to take into account all elements and factors when driving in Knoxville.