Blue light special? Bill would allow speakers’ cars to ignore traffic rules

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill to authorize the state cars transporting the governor or speakers of the state House and Senate to use emergency lights is up for final approval in the Senate on Thursday.

[UPDATE: The bill passed 27-3 and is headed to the governor’s desk.]

Under current law, the THP cars carrying Gov. Bill Lee, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), and Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti across the state aren’t explicitly allowed to use blue lights.

The bill sponsored by freshman Sen. Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun) and Rep. Lowell Russell (R-Vonore) would exempt protective detail troopers from following posted parking rules. They could also pass through red lights or stop signs without coming to a halt, exceed the posted speed limit, drive against the flow of traffic, and disregard restrictions on turns.

Lawmakers are pursuing the bill despite opposition from THP leadership.

The General Assembly in 2021 approved $750,000 in new funding for the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s protective detail, which doubled the number of Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers assigned to the speakers to two each. The speakers were also assigned two vehicles, up from the previous one.

The legislative hallways are rife with stories about one speaker’s trooper being reprimanded for operating the state cars above the posted speed limit. The Safety Department won’t confirm whether any disciplinary action has been taken against members of the protective detail for their driving habits due to what a spokesman calls the “potential operational vulnerability” of identifying the troopers on the detail.

The House has already passed the measure unanimously.


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