(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 4, 2016 – Legislation advanced through the Senate Transportation Committee this week strengthening Tennessee’s law protecting children who are passengers on school buses. Senate Bill 1596, sponsored by Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) and Representative Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville), toughens the penalty for using a mobile telephone, or another electronic device, while the school bus is in motion or stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading, when one or more children are on the bus.
The legislation comes after the Knox County crash of two school buses in December 2014 when two children and a teacher’s assistant were tragically killed. Following an extensive investigation, authorities determined that the at-fault bus driver was using his mobile telephone to text in the moments leading up to the crash.
“By bringing this legislation, we are working to keep any other families from unbearable grief,” added Rep. Smith. “Our children are too important and deserve the undivided attention to keeping them safe.”
“The penalty in current law is clearly ineffective and inadequate to protect the safety of children,” said Senator Massey. “We cannot tolerate a bus driver texting while driving, which endangers the lives of the children who are entrusted to his or her care as a passenger.”
Currently, school bus drivers who use a mobile telephone while transporting children commit a Class C misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of $50. The proposed legislation enhances the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor requiring at least 30 days in jail and a fine of not less than $1,000. The bill also broadens the definition of mobile telephone to include any portable electronic device. In addition, the measure requires the permanent revocation of the school bus endorsement held by the driver for violation of the law.
According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, distracted driving caused 21,024 traffic crashes across the state in 2014.
“This bill stiffens penalties to help ensure that such a tragedy which occurred in Knox County never happens again in Tennessee,” Massey concluded.
The bill is scheduled for a final vote in the Senate on Monday and is pending action in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.