Tennessee Law Proposes New Bill That Give Drivers Immunity for Hitting Protesters

A bill has been filed in the Tennessee General Assembly that would make drivers immune from any civil liability if they hit and injure a protester who is blocking the road. The proposed bill was filed in early February by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and reads:

“A person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right of way is immune from civil liability for such injury.”

According to the bill, if the driver intentionally hit the protester or did not exercise due care, they are not immune to being sued in a civil court. This bill is one of many that have been filed nationwide; each specifies similar protection for drivers, and targets protestors. Other proposed bills have been filed that would hold protestors financially liable for causing law enforcement officials to work overtime; thereby, leading to millions of dollars in overtime pay.

Over the past year, protestors have taken to the streets to voice their opinions in movements against current politics and Black Lives Matter. It is believed this bill is in relation to recent clashes between demonstrators and traffic in Nashville. In one such incident held in front of the offices of Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, police witnessed several protestors hindering a passing SUV by riding on the hood causing the vehicle to have to stop. If this law passes, similar incidents would relieve the driver of a civil suit whenever a protester is harmed. Whether or not the driver could be charged with a crime however, is not yet known.

House Bill 0668 has caused a great concern amongst residents, lawmakers, and human rights groups who call it a “knee-jerk law”, and fear it might enable opposing drivers to purposely harm protesters. Senator Jeff Yarbro has said that giving the right to hurt people without facing consequences is ‘disturbing’. Lawyers have also taken notice of the proposed bill and raised questions about how it could affect current laws. Moreover, if it is to pass, the term ‘due care’ could be considered open-ended and be easily taken advantage of by the driver’s defense. Others against the bill make a point by asking whether or not it is financially and ethically appropriate, especially when pedestrian accidents are on the rise. In Nashville alone, between 2005 and 2016, 416 pedestrians lost their lives (1). Nashville has one of the highest mortality rates involving pedestrians, and many believe this number could be decreased through improving the cities’ sidewalks, crosswalks and lighting.

In Tennessee, it is an offense to block public roadways. Many of the latest protests have blocked the roads while law enforcement supervised the event. People against the law argue there are better solutions including the development of a ‘free speech’ area where opinions could be voiced without causing a disturbance in the flow of traffic.

In lieu of the public outcry, Representative Hill has released a statement:

“We are not endorsing anyone running over a person with a car, whether it is protesters or anyone else. If someone intentionally harms a person, they are going to be charged with a crime, period. There is a clear difference, however, between peacefully protesting and lawless rioters in the middle of a public roadway who jeopardize the safety of our families. This is a public safety bill that is meant to protect everyone’s right to peacefully protest and I look forward to seeing this commonsense legislation passed into law.”

If passed, the proposed bill would go into effect July 1, 2017.

What are your thoughts about this bill? Please share in the comments below.

1. ‘between 2005 and 2016, 416 pedestrians lost their lives’ – Department of Safety and Homeland Security: Pedestrians and Other Pedestrians* Involved in Tennessee Traffic Crashes by Year and County 2005 – 2016 https://www.tn.gov/assets/entities/safety/attachments/Pedestrians.pdf

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