Last month Tennessee joined 20 other states in banning cell phone use for school bus drivers. The new bill places Tennessee at the forefront of states with similar laws; Tennessee now has the strictest cell phone laws for bus drivers in the nation.
While support for tougher cell phone laws has been growing in the state for some time, a major turning point came in December of 2014 when two school buses crashed because a bus driver was texting on his phone and crossed the median. Two students and a teacher's aide died in the crash.
The new bill signed by Governor Bill Haslem increases the penalty amount from $50 to $1,000 for bus drivers caught using their cell phones while driving. The new law takes effect July 1, 2016 and can lead to more than 30 days of jail time, and permanent loss of the drivers' license for bus drivers caught using mobile devices while operating a bus. The bill applies to all of the drivers' time operating the bus, including time when the bus is stopped or is unloading children.
Cell phone use under this bill includes texting, talking on the phone, playing games, looking at photographs, and generally using the phone in any way.
This was not the only bill being considered for cell phone use while driving. A bill sponsored by Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Johnson City, that aimed to ban all hand-held cell phone use while driving passed in the House but was tabled in the Senate. The bill would have joined Tennessee with 14 other states that have already enacted similar laws. Rep. Holsclaw's bill had received continual support from advocate Doug Ralls, whose teenage son was killed by a distracted driver in 2009.
In banning cell phone use for school bus drivers the state has taken a positive step in curbing accidents from distracted driving. But there is still a long way to go.
A 2013 report by the National Safety Council found that Tennessee had the highest rates in the nation of driving fatalities caused by cellphone use. Since January of 2016, there have been 5,614 car accidents in Tennessee caused by distracted drivers.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, cell phones are involved in 1.6 million car crashes every year, cause 500,000 injuries, and cause 6,000 deaths. A study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving makes accidents six times more likely than driving while intoxicated.
Regular drivers in Tennessee are allowed to use cell phones while driving under some conditions. Texting while driving is prohibited for all drivers in Tennessee. Drivers are allowed to make calls on their cell phone or with hands-free devices, Tennessee does not ban hand-held cell phone use in the car. Novice drivers with a learner or intermediate license or permit are banned from all cell phone use.
To read more about cell phone use while driving, see individual state laws here.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and physical and emotional pain and suffering. Call our offices today at (615) 244- 4511 to schedule a free consultation.