PENALTIES FOR TENNESSEE SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS WHO TEXT AND DRIVE TO INCREASE

A new law specifically targets school bus drivers in Tennessee, increasing the penalties for those who choose to use an electronic device while driving.

Last year, there were 22,964 crashes in Tennessee that occurred due to a distracted driver. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, there have been 5,614 such incidents so far this year.

Unfortunately, some of these accidents involve school buses. In an effort to protect students and discourage the behavior, state lawmakers have increased the penalties for texting and driving when it comes to school bus drivers.

Know the law

Under Tennessee law, no driver is permitted to text while behind the wheel. Further, novice drivers - or those who hold a learner's permit or intermediate license - are banned from using any handheld or hands-free device. Bus drivers are not permitted to use handheld or hands-free devices, either. These laws are enforceable on a primary basis, which means a law enforcement officer can pull over and ticket someone simply because he or she witnessed the activity.

It quickly became apparent that the law did not do enough to address school bus drivers specifically, according to a report from the Knoxville News Sentinel. Unfortunately, it took a deadly accident to prompt lawmakers to make a change. A Knoxville school bus driver was texting and driving when the bus drove across multiple lanes of traffic, crashing into another school bus. Three children lost their lives as a result.

House Bill 1511 passed in the spring of this year and was signed into law in May. Effective July 1, 2016, school bus drivers are not permitted to use any electronic device either when the bus is stopped and loading or unloading children, or while the bus is in motion. The law does state that bus drivers may use devices in emergency situations or to communicate with dispatch.

A school bus driver who violates this law is considered to have committed a Class A misdemeanor and could face jail time and a significant fine. Further, that person will not be permitted to drive a school bus in Tennessee anymore.

Other types of distractions

Cell phone use is just one of many distractions that could take any driver's focus off the road. Any of the following can be considered dangerous behavior while driving:

  • Eating or grooming
  • Interacting with other passengers
  • Reaching for something in the car

Tennessee does not have specific laws on the books addressing these items. However, if a driver is engaged in one of these behaviors and causes an accident, it could be possible for law enforcement to cite him or her for reckless driving. Tennessee law states that anyone who is operating a vehicle with either wanton or willful disregard of the safety of others commits reckless driving.

Anyone who has questions regarding this issue should consult a personal injury attorney in Tennessee.

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