TN school bus drivers could see stricter requirements


BRISTOL, TN - Fatal school bus crashes in Tennessee spurring new proposed legislation. A new law would increase requirements for drivers and school districts. The main focus is finding more experienced bus drivers.

State representative David Hawk is carrying HB 322. He said increasing the minimum required age from 21 to 25-years-old will set a safer standard.

"Companies that are contracting out these transportation services will look for drivers anywhere they can find drivers," Hawk said, "whether they have experience or not."

Any training required for a bus driver beyond studying for a commercial driver's license is left up to the discretion of the school district. Hawk wants to increase the required training across the board.

"When parents put their children on the school bus in the morning, their expectation is that they get to school and get home safely. We're trying to ensure that," Hawk said,

At a minimum, the driver training program, that would be designed by the Department of Safety and the Department of Education, would include addressing student management, distracted driving, school and district policy, and driving techniques.

Hawk said driver credentials and bus maintenance records would be made available to parents. The law would also establish a process for investigating complaints.

"There will be a formal investigation and we'll know exactly what's going on," Hawk said, "and then there will be 60 days for schools to have discussion about how they're going to change or improve."

The owner of the Holston Bus Company, Kenny Morrell, said more training isn't a bad idea but likely isn't necessary. His company contracts buses and drivers to Bristol, Tennessee Schools. Morrell points out that four hours of annual training to maintain a commercial license is already required.

"In our 60 years, we've never had a child injured inside of a school bus that required hospitalization," Morrell said, "and I don't know a whole lot of improvements you could make on that."

His company, like many school districts in the Tri-Cities area, struggles to maintain a full staff of drivers. The age restriction could make finding drivers harder but he said his company typically hires older drivers anyway.

"Usually a 21 to 22-year-old kid has to make a living," Morrell said, "so we go for the semi-retired and stay at home moms."

But Morrell said complaints are always addressed immediately with the help of his school bus cameras. He believes shining a spotlight on driving histories or school bus maintenance would do more harm than good.

"I think they would turn over some rocks that would be unnecessary," Morrell said.

The bill will go to the floor for debate in the next few weeks.

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