NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers in Tennessee are taking aim at school bus safety with a trio of bills introduced in the wake of the crash that killed six students in Chattanooga in November.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Democrat from Chattanooga, introduced two school transportation-related bills last week.
Favors’ HB 127 would raise the state’s minimum age for obtaining an initial school bus endorsement from 21 to 25. Current school bus drivers who are between those ages would be grandfathered in, so they could renew their existing endorsement.
In the Chattanooga crash, school bus driver Johnthony Walker was 24 years old.
Another piece of legislation from Favors, HB 395, would require school buses bought after July 1, 2018, to be equipped with “a restraint system” for passengers. Then, as of July 1, 2023, all school buses in the state would have to be equipped with the restraints. The bill does not specify a type of restraint, such as lap belts or lap-shoulder belts.
Another school transportation-related bill was introduced last week by Rep. David Hawk, a Republican from Greeneville. HB 322 represents Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s approach, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Like one of Favors’ proposals, HB 322 would raise the state’s minimum age for new school bus drivers from 21 to 25. But the governor-backed bill would not require restraints on school buses.
Instead of seat belts, HB 322 takes other angles in attempting to bolster school bus safety. The legislation’s measures include:
• School districts that contract out their bus service would need to have a transportation supervisor to oversee the service.
• The state would create a mandatory annual training program for all transportation supervisors.
• School districts would have to develop a formal policy for responding to school bus safety complaints.
• School bus drivers would have to undergo training based on state standards, which would include such topics as student management, distracted driving, driving techniques, evacuations, loading and unloading, and mirror usage.
If passed, HB 322 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.