Bill would limit school bus drivers' cellphone use

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska lawmaker pushed for a state law Tuesday that would prohibit school bus drivers from using cellphones while their vehicles are moving.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids said Nebraska should join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in banning the practice. Sullivan told the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee that her bill would apply to school buses that contract with districts or directly with parents.

Sullivan said she introduced the measure after a woman who lives in a rural area complained to her school district and the state Department of Education about spotting a bus driver who was looking down at an object in his left hand and appeared distracted.

The woman "was concerned because it appeared that the driver was looking at a cellphone," the senator said.

School district officials explained to the woman that their policy allowed bus drivers to use cellphones in emergencies.

Texting while driving is already illegal in Nebraska, and the state Department of Education has approved a rule that requires school bus drivers to pull over if they want to use a wireless device. But Sullivan thinks it's still necessary for lawmakers to put restriction of cellphones for school bus drivers into law for clarity.

She said the "precious cargo" that the buses carry along with the size and weight of the vehicles should merit a state law that bans the drivers from using their phones while traveling.

"The last thing a school bus driver needs to be doing is talking, dialing or answering a cellphone while their school bus is in motion," said Sullivan, adding that the drivers might already be dealing with student noise and other distractions.

School buses account for less than 1 percent of fatal crashes each year nationally, according to federal highway safety data.

Sullivan's proposal, which the Nebraska State Education Association supports, would exempt dispatch communication devices such as two-way radios, although cellphones are quickly replacing that technology.

"I think it's going to be very hard anymore to have a direct-connect device that's also not a cellphone at the same time," said Sen. Beau McCoy, of Omaha.

A U.S. Department of Transportation regulation that went into effect in January prohibits commercial motorists, including truckers and bus drivers, from using hand-held mobile phones while driving.

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The bill is LB258.

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