A Tennessee bill would toughen penalties for school bus drivers who use a portable electronic device while driving or loading students.

A Tennessee bill would toughen penalties for school bus drivers who use a portable electronic device while driving or loading students.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — School bus drivers caught texting or using other electronic devices at the wheel would face stiffer penalties under a bill being considered by Tennessee lawmakers.

State Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville) said that the legislation was spurred by the fatal crash of two school buses in Knoxville in December 2014. In that crash, which killed two students and an aide, investigators found that school bus driver James Davenport had been sending and receiving text messages.

“In essence, this bill seeks to strengthen laws as it relates to school bus drivers texting while transporting kids,” Smith wrote on Facebook, adding that discussing the Knoxville crash brought out his “dad side.” “I never want another parent to endure what these families have dealt with for the last year.”

Under current law in Tennessee, a school bus driver who uses a mobile phone while transporting students would be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a $50 fine.

Smith’s bill, HB1484, would crack down on the issue, making the offense a Class A misdemeanor for school bus drivers. That would carry a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, a fine of at least $1,000 and permanent prohibition from operating a school bus in the state.

The legislation would also broaden the list of devices that school bus drivers are banned from using while driving. In addition to mobile phones, a few examples are laptop computers, pagers, cameras and electronic games. Two-way radios would be exempt, as would phone calls in emergencies.

An amendment to the bill specifies that school bus drivers could not use the prohibited portable electronic devices while loading or unloading students, in addition to while the bus is in motion and transporting students.

The bill was approved by the Tennessee House transportation committee on Tuesday. Next, it moves to the education committee.

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