Mississippi passes “Jesus take the wheel” bill, exempting church drivers from commercial licensing statutes

March 22, 2015 • 2:45 pm

Of all the exemption laws for stuff like medical care, vaccinations, and blood transfusions, this one makes the least sense. Last month, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill exempting drivers of church buses (but not other buses of similar size) from having to pass the state’s commercial driver’s license test. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi tells the story:

House members on Thursday [Feb. 5] passed a bill exempting mid-sized church buses from the state’s commercial driver’s license requirements, prompting one lawmaker to call it the “Jesus Take the Wheel Act.”

Current law requires CDL-certified drivers for any vehicle transporting more than 16 passengers, including the driver. The bill would amend that law to exempt church buses designed to carry 30 passengers or less.

[JAC: “Jesus Take the Wheel” is the title of a Carrie Underwood song about a mother who, driving with her baby in the car, hits a patch of black ice, skids, and then takes her hands off the wheel, asking Jesus to steer. Of course Jesus did, everyone was saved, and the mother accepted Jesus as her savior. You can hear that execrable ditty here.]

The bill, HB 132, would help congregations lacking a CDL-certified driver transport up to 30 passengers in a church-owned vehicle. Although applying equally to all churches, it’s primarily aimed at smaller congregations with fewer members and financial resources.

It now heads to the Senate for consideration. [JAC: I don’t think the Senate’s voted on it yet.]

“This just allows small churches, some don’t have people with commercial licenses at all, and they can pick a person to drive the bus,” said state Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, who chairs the Transportation Committee which had passed the bill earlier in the session.

Here’s a thirty-passenger van pictured by The Daily Kos. It ain’t small! I’d think one would have to take a test to be qualified to drive people around in that.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W

 The Clarion-Ledger continues:

When contacted by The Clarion-Ledger, longtime CDL-certified driver Troy Coll of Hattiesburg called the measure potentially dangerous.

“I think this bill is trading the safety of everyone on the road for the convenience of those operating church vehicles,” Coll said. “Since the bill covers vehicles up to 30 passengers, we’re not just talking vans with extra rows of seats – these are buses, with long frames and much larger blind spots than passenger vehicles.”

Commercial certified bus drivers must pass a written test and a driving test and also must get a CDL Medical Card, which requires the driver pass a physical.

“Obtaining a CDL is not especially difficult,” Coll said, “but the testing does increase the level of scrutiny on drivers, and the medical requirements prevent individuals with poor vision/hearing/motor control or untreated diabetes from driving large vehicles full of vulnerable passengers.”

I’m not sure what the rationale for this law is, unless it’s somehow to relieve churches of the onerous burden of having their drivers get qualified, and of course endangering passengers’ safety at the same time. Or perhaps churches aren’t considered “commercial” operations. But I bet other noncommercial ventures that have such buses must get their drivers qualified. Pity Jesus can’t really take the wheel!



Heather Hastie sent in two relevant cartoons:

image001 image002

h/t: Lenny

131 thoughts on “Mississippi passes “Jesus take the wheel” bill, exempting church drivers from commercial licensing statutes

  1. Permitting unqualified individuals to drive around Christian children….unfortunately I sense a Darwin award in the offing.

    1. Yes, but you see, with Christian children, there’s no need for safety measures. All that’s taken care of by the driver upstairs. No seat belts, nothin’. Actually, they could let the kids take turns driving.

      1. – And if they DO have a wreck, and children die, they can always say that “Jesus had a need for them in Heaven.”

        1. Or, even more sickening, they claim that “Jesus looked after them” when their children survive as the hearse collects the corpses of those that didn’t.

  2. I suppose if the only risk was to the passengers who deigned to get on the bus it would be different…

  3. Next thing you know there will be legislation drafted that exempts religious people from paying tax..too Caesar-y.

  4. Oh I also loved that Jesus picture. It’s hilarious in its tackiness and looks like just the kind of stupid picture one of my Catholic relatives (note: not genetically related to me; my father was adopted) would put on their Facebook page.

        1. I see the abominable snowman out the window in the trees. He probably started all the trouble, causing Jesus to intervene. I bet it all started with a card game.

    1. I especially like the fact that the beloved savior has his back to on-coming traffic. I wonder how that’s likely to work out. (He clearly never went to the BMW Performance Driving School!)

      1. Maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. Jesus was fighting the driver for the wheel. That’s how all this shit got started and when he saves the day it’s really just him covering up that he was being a jerk and trying to drive by floating in the front window and driving backward. It isn’t all Jesus’s fault; he lived in a time where people road animals for transportation and he lived in the Middle East where there was no snow.

  5. Next, they can pass a law to allow church members to drive 10 wheelers to carry church dirt or tractor-trailers for church gelt or cranes to work on church buildings. How about allowing them to run church chemical plants or to use machine guns for church hunts. What the hell, allow them to use nuclear weapons on church enemies like those damn secularists.

          1. Yes! Bob Odenkirk is a comic genius. Saul was my favourite Breaking Bad character and he plays him so perfectly. The character is actually a good lawyer and it’s interesting to see him up to schemes in this spin off.

              1. Mike is a great character too – the acting is phenomenal!

                I love the business card too – “Need a Will? Call McGill!”

              2. This prequel far exceeds my expectations. The acting and story line are superb, but I really like the directing. There are long, quiet scenes when nothing much goes on, but then you learn that they’re significant to the plot — quite a refreshing relief to the fast paced action more common in TV.

              3. Yes Stephen, I agree about the quiet scenes. I especially like all the sequences of McGill trying to figure out if he can get away with accepting the bribe from the nutty people.

              4. Those nutty people who argued they weren’t trying to escape with all the money in their tent because they were practically in their back yard! The wife is really a piece of work.

  6. I have a CDL license and what concerns me most are the safety rules and good practice advice related to things in addition to operating the vehicle. I have an “Class A” license (semi trucks) and a passenger bus like this would only need a “Class B”, but I did sit in on a B classroom session and there was a lot of valuable info on where to allow embark/disembark, special passenger needs/first aid, radio and roadside assistance etc. I think subsidizing driving classes would be a better way to go.

    1. Oh, FFS, (smh).

      In a past life I drove school bus in Ontario. Managing passengers in the bus in one thing, managing the safe loading and unloading is another. Doing both while in live traffic just adds to the challenge. Actually driving the bus is the easy part, but it does take some training.

      School bus training is free in my neck of the woods. The bus companies provide free training as part of their hiring process. Most school bus drivers don’t last very long. In broad terms you have the responsibility of an airline pilot with the paycheque of a french fry cook.

      1. Love that last sentence.

        I used to know an airline pilot who flew the big commercial jets. He said it was mostly like driving a bus but that he earned his paycheck about one day a month when conditions were especially tricky.

  7. I would think the state’s insurance companies might have something to say about this. I bet they’re all adding clauses about their non-liability when the driver is unlicensed.

    This is more privileging of the religious, although in this case the privilege is dubious. I suppose they say it is too difficult and/or costly to get licensed drivers. As is so often the case, they care more about pleasing religious leaders than protecting the rest of the people.

    1. Actually the insurance companies would need to be specific about what type of license would be needed since the state seems headed towards making it legal with just an ordinary license. BTW what are Mississippi’s rules on what type of insurance a church requires for its vehicles.

    2. That was my thought as well. I can’t imagine a rental company renting a vehicle to a church that can’t produce a CDL licensed driver and limiting the driving to him or her, nor an insurance company writing an auto policy for a church that doesn’t have a driver with the proper license and limiting the driving as well.

      That’s how it is here, and I can’t imagine the companies there are less risk-averse. So, I’m hoping that society, the profit motive and fear of negligence litigation will compensate for the foolishness of the politicians, and this “law” won’t change anything.

  8. I hear that this Jesus fellow has a pretty good track record of keeping airplanes from falling out of the sky and tsunamis from hitting shore near populated areas and children dying from starvation so what could possible go wrong with this idea ?

  9. “I’m not sure what the rationale for this law is, unless it’s somehow to relieve churches of the onerous burden of having their drivers get qualified,”

    Funny how the churches can afford large, special passenger bussesbut not the time or expense to get a CDL :-p

    This bill strikes me as illegal favoritism for religion unless expanded to include all non-prophet organizations.

  10. A number of states provide religious exemptions from their day care licensing legislation, for example in Alabama:

    Preschool programs which are an integral part of a local church ministry or a religious nonprofit elementary school, and are so recognized in the church or school’s documents, are not required to be licensed by the Department of Human Resources

    So what could be better than allowing your children to be driven to an unlicensed day care facility than by an unlicensed bus driver ?

    And just think, many of the children will not be vaccinated due to religious exemptions in this area as well.

    That Jesus fellow is going to be busier than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs trying to keep those children safe, but I hear he’s up to the job.

    1. Holy Shit. It shouldn’t surprise me, but damn. Religion + child care + exempt from regulation? That makes me sick.

    2. So what could be better than allowing your children to be driven to an unlicensed day care facility than by an unlicensed bus driver?

      A Catholic priest, a new transfer from another “troubled” parish, as the day care center supervisor?

  11. The more I see laws like this, the more I’m rather convinced that some Christians wish to walk among us but do whatever they please, ignoring our laws.

    Which reminds me of another group that wandered around, took whatever they wanted from their neighbors, including their wives and daughters.

  12. I’m also wondering if Mississippi will see an increase of accidents from cars trying to avoid anything which looks like a church bus. I know I’d be on alert.

    No need to be sure the drivers know what they’re doing because — what? Can they really think there are special magic protections placed on godly people doing church business?

    A load of crock from every angle, since they also know full well that if 2 church buses filled with children and elderly collided, blew up, and sank a bridge which flooded a home for abandoned puppies and kitties they’d still find some way to see God’s loving hand in this, only increasing their faith and trust in the Lord.

    1. I don’t know the song, and I couldn’t hear, so I tried watching with subtitles – and you know how inaccurate they can be at the best of times. It was hilarious!

  13. if 2 church buses filled with children and elderly collided, blew up, and sank a bridge which flooded a home for abandoned puppies and kitties

    Someone would say it was god’s punishment for the gay.
    Also, the kittens would get Raptured™

  14. I’d like to take this opportunity to express just how much the song Jesus Take The Wheel disgusts me. From the very first hearing it was nauseating. The whiny tone, of voice & story. The explicit praise of giving up all responsibility and authority to a “magic man” as if that is actually a good and reasonable thing to do.

    1. A few years back a lady (I think she was from the Maritimes) hit a moose and totalled her car but without conscious memory, drove to work in a car missing it’s roof and blood all over her. She had a head injury and her brain just did all the stuff that it normally did and I guess didn’t need her to be conscious of it.

      It’s an interesting story because you get to see how the brain can work. However, on a talk show, she attributed this all the Jesus, who took the wheel, instead of marvelling at the brain and consciousness (or the lack of need for it in this case).

      1. It’s nice that Jesus drove her to work instead of to a hospital. And, poor moose. Where the heck was Jesus when it really mattered? Too busy making sure everyone was getting to work on time?

        1. Jesus has a strong work ethic & that moose was just getting in the way of that person going to work!

      2. Compare that story with the sensible one my friend Raven (whereever you are!) used to tell about she and her friend Greyhawk. They apparently were driving home somewhere in his truck, and heard a very loud “thump!” Raven was worried they’d hit something important – and Greyhawk went out to check and called back inside: “Raven!! Guess what we’re having for dinner!!” (Caribou, as it happens.)

        *This* is “native environmentalism” and adapting to the modern world – or at least one way. (Both are important, and hard.)

      1. Tat’s fun e. I hope those were not serious. No. Actually it would be funnier if they were supposed to be serious.

    1. Old, but good joke. We used it in a show last month.

      Attributed to several people – Jack Handey, Will Rogers, Bob Monkhouse…

    2. I am reminded of what started as a horrible racist joke but I’ll translate it for the present occasion:

      A guy is driving along a twisting mountain road and he comes on a friend of his (an atheist) sitting by the side of the road looking shocked. He stops and says “What’s the matter?”
      His friend says “A bus load of Christians just went over the edge”
      He says “Well, they’re nearer to their god, why so depressed?”
      “There were three empty seats!”

      Sorry ’bout that, nobody ever accused me of good taste.

      1. I’ve heard that one but with “Christians” replaced by “lawyers”. Also works with “merchant bankers”.

  15. Just get me to the church on time.

    What was that misquoted line in the movie — We don’t need no stinking badges. Well, we don’t need no stinking license either. Maybe Mississippi churches are going for the opposite
    of that UPS commercial – We don’t know logistics.

  16. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate, 2nd highest high-school dropout rate and 2nd highest teen pregnancy rate in the country and this is what the lawmakers come up with.

    Good job boys and girls (probably all boys).

  17. It seems most likely that some legislator either is a member of, or friends with members of, a small church that’s having trouble lining up volunteers who are not only willing to drive on a regular basis, but willing to go through the tests and paperwork to get and maintain a CDL. I suspect many “smaller” churches are struggling with the fact that more and more of their “regulars” are elderly.

  18. How long before Megabus, Greyhound, Coachways etc. become the “New Revival Church of Megabus”, the “First Greyhound Temple” and “Coachways Ministry”. Always looking for a competitive edge.

  19. My father-in-law died as the result of a collision – his car was hit from behind by a bus. Having lost someone to a negligent bus driver, I find this bill very annoying. Can elected officials be sued for negligence and gross stupidity?

    1. Yeah, I thought the same – can you sue the state for negligence if an injury or death occurs because of this?

  20. There are companies that specialize in insuring churches, synagogues, etc — Church Mutual is one example of this.

    I wonder what these companies are going to say to Mississippi congregations that refuse to get the commercial drivers licenses for their bus drivers.

    Even if Mississippi law doesn’t require the CDL for church bus drivers, I can easily see the insurance companies charging higher premiums if they don’t have the CDL.

  21. I’m sure we’ll soon hear about a horrible accident, killing most of the passengers. Only one child will survive and it will be called a miraculous intervention by God. That’s how this stuff works.

    1. I heard her sing this live at the Berkeley Community Center in the 70s. Incredible concert. My roommate and I were almost the only white people there, so I was a tiny bit nervous during songs like this…but there appeared to be nothing to worry about.

  22. “AC: “Jesus Take the Wheel” is the title of a Carrie Underwood song about a mother who, driving with her baby in the car, hits a patch of black ice, skids, and then takes her hands off the wheel, asking Jesus to steer. Of course Jesus did, everyone was saved, and the mother accepted Jesus as her savior. You can hear that execrable ditty here.”

    In actual fact, IF you’re _totally_ inexperienced and get into a skid (i.e. a tailslide) then letting go of the wheel is not a bad strategy. The castor will turn the front wheels in the direction of the slide and if you’re lucky the car will straighten itself out. Appealing to Jesus is strictly irrelevant but if it occupies the driver and stops them from jamming their feet hard on some pedal or other, so much the better.

    Electronic Stability Control in new cars is possibly better than Jesus, though. 🙂

  23. I would encourage all church bus drivers to allow Jesus to take the wheel frequently – especially when they are approaching railroad crossings or on narrow mountain roads.

  24. There is precedent in that owners (or renters) of large motorhomes (fully as big as a real bus) do not generally require special licences.

    1. Also look at U Haul truck rentals, some of these are easily as large as a church bus, but you can rent them with a standard license. The business would collapse without those rules.

      Presumably church buses are being considered non commercial volunteer operated.

        1. It strikes me that many of those trucks would have made it through safely if they’d been fully laden and riding lower. I wonder how many of the drivers *had* measured the hight laden and forgot that they’d be taller on the return journey?

          But some are clearly just stupid.

          Whatever happened to having chains at the right height ahead of low bridges so you had a less destructive warning?


          1. The bridge apparently is well signposted, and it has a light beam ahead of it that triggers the flashing warning lights. The trucks that star in the video have ignored that. It also has a steel beam mounted so it’s not the bridge they hit, it’s the beam.

        2. Can someone with damage estimate skill give a guess as to what the total cost of these crashes is? Based on how much it takes to fix a car, it’s got to be a pretty whopping sum. Seems it would be worth while then to, as Ant suggests put some highly sophisticated warning device (chain), lower the road or raise the trestle a bit.

  25. I’d bet the professors boots the last thing jesus drove was a donkey and probably the odd athiest bats!

      1. Now I have The Ride of The Valkries in my head and I’m imaging bats doing the flying. I like this version better than Wagner’s original!

          1. Awesome cartoon that. Visually gorgeous. I love the mariachi band – “he is going to die”.

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