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.
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: