Tennessee Toughens Penalties for School Bus Driver Texting

Thomas McMahon
Posted on April 29, 2016
Under a new law, Tennessee school bus drivers who use portable electronic devices at the wheel face a 30-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. Photo by Ed Brown
Under a new law, Tennessee school bus drivers who use portable electronic devices at the wheel face a 30-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. Photo by Ed Brown

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill that increases penalties for Tennessee school bus drivers caught using portable electronic devices at the wheel has been signed into law.

Gov. Bill Haslam approved the legislation on Thursday. It passed the Tennessee House and Senate with nearly unanimous votes.

As previously reported, the bill 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.

“Following the events of December 2014, I vowed to do everything within my power to make sure that nothing like this happened in Tennessee again,” said Charme Allen, Knox County’s district attorney general. “Thanks to a statewide effort, Tennessee now has the strongest law in the nation when it comes to distracted school bus drivers.”

Under previous 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.

The newly passed law, which goes into effect July 1, makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor for school bus drivers. That carries 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 also broadens 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.

The bill specifies that school bus drivers can’t use the prohibited portable electronic devices while loading or unloading students, in addition to while the bus is in motion and transporting students.

Communications with dispatch via two-way radios, or other devices used in a similar way as two-way radio communications, are still allowed, as are phone calls in emergencies.

Allen, the Knox County attorney general, worked with bill sponsors Sen. Becky Duncan Massey and Rep. Eddie Smith over the past several months to support the passage of the legislation.

“With child safety in mind, we have dramatically broadened and strengthened the law to ensure that our school bus drivers are keeping their focus where it should be," Massey said.

“This was a vital step to protect our children from unnecessary danger on their way to and from school,” Smith added. “The strengthened penalties should make it very clear that the safety of our children is our number one priority.”

Related Topics: cell phones, distracted driving, Tennessee

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
Comments ( 2 )
  • Richard Kjell

     | about 4 years ago

    It is always a tragedy when ever some one dies. It is always made out to be much worse when a school bus is involved with the accident. There are many unanswered questions that come to mind with this story. The driver that was determined to be texting, was he responsible for the accident, could he have prevented the accident and who was he texting with? Was he only receiving texts from parents with details about their children and their pick-up or drop-off points? What this leads to another reaction to let us regulate the life out of another occupation so nobody will work in this field. A minimum $1000 fine and a 30 day jail sentence and a BAN FROM DRIVING IN THAT STATE FOREVER. Where does cruel and unusual punishment fit into the picture. There has to be another way to deal with this issue. This knee-jerk politics is not going to solve the distracted school bus driver on the road. They (the legislatures) have no idea of what goes on on a school bus and the surrounding area.

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