Behind the wheel: No age limit on bus drivers

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The Knox County School system says the drivers trusted daily with children's lives are a select group. But age is not part of that selection.

"Age is not a factor. Good health and careful driving record, that's what matters," says Knox County Board of Education Chair Indya Kincannon. "You can be a really safe driver at age 70."

Tennessee doesn't require an age cutoff, only a yearly physical exam.

A healthy driver needs to hold a passenger-capable commercial license, and pass criminal and driving background checks. "Just because of their age doesn't mean they're not able to do the job," says Sgt. Kenneth Rose, with Tennessee Highway Patrol Special Operations.

"There's not an age requirement on school bus drivers just the same as there's not on an airplane pilot, or the captains of ships," says Rose.

The driver cited for Saturday's Knox County school bus accident was a contractor hired by Gentry Trailways. Bill Gentry says many older drivers are retired, with a better work ethic than other younger drivers. His drivers are hired on a system that's meant not to discriminate by age, but is based on performance.

Knoxville Area Transit drivers match that standard. "As long as they can maintain the physicals that are required of the CDL and pass our drug tests and other substance abuse tests, they're eligible to drive. There is no upper age limit," says KAT General Manager Cindy McGuinnis.

McGuinnis says KAT's 186 bus operators are diverse in every way, including age. "During these recent economic downturns, we have seen that our pool of applicants has grown a lot wider."

Kincannon says she hopes the qualification questions make all drivers remember safety on the roads. "Hopefully we can use this as just a wake up call," says Kincannon. "And it means our drivers and contractors are even more alert than ever."

THP says each year those with a school bus endorsement must complete a four-hour safety training session to continue to be qualified for the position. Drivers are also subject to random drug testing.

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