Governor Haslam Signs DA Allen's School Bus Safety Proposal into LawPosted: 06/17/2016
District Attorney General Charme P. Allen is pleased to announce that Governor Bill Haslam has signed into law her proposal to strengthen state laws prohibiting the use of electronic devices by school bus drivers. General Allen worked closely with bill sponsors Senator Becky Duncan Massey and Representative Eddie Smith over the past several months to ensure its passage before the General Assembly.
General Allen’s proposal came in the wake of the tragic December 2014 school bus crash in East Knoxville that claimed the lives of two students and a teacher’s aide. In the months following the crash, it became apparent to General Allen that current Tennessee law did not go far enough to prohibit distracted driving by those who transport children on school buses. Her proposal was widely supported by prosecutors across the state through the District Attorneys General Conference. Senator Massey and Rep. Smith guided the bill through the General Assembly with nearly unanimous support.
Under current law, it is illegal for school bus drivers to use a mobile telephone while transporting children. The crime, however, is a Class C misdemeanor punishable only by a $50 fine and no jail time.
Following General Allen’s proposal and effective July 1, 2016, it will be illegal for a school bus driver to use any electronic device while the bus is moving with children onboard or while the bus is stopped to load or unload children. The law contains exceptions for electronic devices used to communicate with central dispatch or used for emergency purposes. Most importantly, the law reclassifies the crime as a Class A misdemeanor and mandates a minimum 30-day jail sentence and $1,000 fine upon conviction. Further, a person convicted under the new law will be prohibited permanently from operating a school bus in Tennessee.
“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 Allen. “Thanks to a statewide effort, Tennessee now has the strongest law in the nation when it comes to distracted school bus drivers.”
“There are simply too many ways for drivers to distract themselves on our roadways,” added Sen. Massey. “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.”
House sponsor Eddie Smith said, “This was a vital step to protect our children from unnecessary danger on their way to and from school. The strengthened penalties should make it very clear that the safety of our children is our number one priority.”