On July 1, 2011, an old section of Tennessee state vehicle code that regulates the behavior of Tennessee motor vehicle operators will grow new teeth. In the new version of the "Due Care" law, introduced in the state senate (SB1171) by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Tennessee and in the house (HB1007) by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, motor vehicle drivers now face stiffer penalties for injuring or killing a pedestrian or cyclist.
Berke and Stewart worked with Bike/Walk Tennessee (www.bikewalktn.org), the statewide advocacy organization for bicyclists and pedestrians, to strengthen the law. For years, state drivers education manuals have taught that drivers are required to "exercise due care" when operating a motor vehicle. With the increased use of smart phones, GPS navigation units and other electronic devices the number of distracted drivers on the road has been increasing.
"We're trying to make sure rules of road apply to everyone whether on a bicycle or in a vehicle," said Berke. "That means a driver should use due care when passing a bicycle. This bill increases the punishment for those who fail to exercise due care."
The new version of the law will effectively remove opportunities for motor vehicle drivers to claim they do not see bicyclists, pedestrians, joggers and other non-motorized road users, as well as strengthen penalties for killing or injuring a pedestrian or bicyclist while driving.
The new law also makes it easier for those injured, or the survivors of those killed, to prevail in civil lawsuits by "making it clear that the law requires people in a car to exercise proper driving restraint around people on a bicycle and pedestrians," said Sen. Berke. "We talk a lot about multi-modal transportation, meaning everyone has the opportunity to travel by foot, bicycle, car.”
Breaking the "Due Care" law is now a class "A" misdemeanor, upgraded from class "C." Penalties for failure to exercise due care now include up to a $500 fine, 11 months and 29 days in jail and a loss of drivers license for 1 year for causing death.
Advocates from Bike Walk Tennessee (BWT), who represent bicyclists and pedestrians across Tennessee, applauded the passage of the landmark bill.
"All Tennesseans want to be safe from careless and dangerous drivers,” said Pat Clements, president of BWT. “Now law enforcement has a valuable tool to make our streets safer.”