NASHVILLE, Tennessee (June 20, 2011) With four grandchildren and eight great children, Jerry Norman, 74, wanted to keep fit and active to enjoy their company. So, on the advice of his doctor, Norman took up walking. But, on his regular early morning walk on June 29, 2010, a driver fell asleep at the wheel and killed Norman while he walked on a Nashville sidewalk. His family suffered the loss of a loved one — and a travesty of justice when, under current Tennessee law, the motorist could not be prosecuted for any crime.
Now, that tragic gap in Tennessee law has been closed. An amended law that goes into effect July 1 will levy new penalties for failure to "exercise due care" while driving a motor vehicle. Motorist, like the driver who killed Jerry Norman, will face stiff fines, loss of driver's license for a year and even possible jail time. No longer will a motorist be able to say "Sorry, I didn't see you" and expect leniency.
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.”
“This Fathers Day will be especially sad for me and my family,” said Brenda Underwood, daughter of Jerry Norman. “No law can bring my dad back, but our family is grateful to Bike Walk Tennessee. Hopefully, these new penalties can prevent another family from having a similar experience.”
It’s an old law, but the penalties are new as of July 1st. For years, drivers education manuals have taught that drivers are required to "exercise due care." With the increased use of smart phones, GPS navigation units and other electronic devices, the number of distracted drivers on the road has increased dramatically. The new bill to hold those drivers responsible was sponsored by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.
"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 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," the senator said. "We talk a lot about multi-modal transportation, meaning everyone has the opportunity to travel by foot, bicycle, car.”
Organizations in other states have already asked about the law and are considering adopting the Tennessee model for their state. Motorcycle groups, bicycle clubs and running clubs are working together in Tennessee to promote the law. You may soon see "Use Due Care - Look out for Bikers” or "Use Due Care - Look out for Runners" or “Sorry I Didn’t See You is Not a Legal Excuse” bumper stickers promoting the amended law.