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Videos capture D.C. city bus crashes, near crashes

By Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell, CNN
updated 8:49 PM EST, Wed January 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dashboard videos show dozens of collisions, more than 100 near-collisions
  • In one clip, a passenger can be heard telling the driver he had run a red light
  • "No, I didn't," is the response

Washington (CNN) -- You have to brace yourself watching them. One video shot from the dashboard of a bus shows a pedestrian being hit full-force and dropping. Another video shows a woman crossing in front of a bus and nearly getting plowed over.

Others show buses running red lights, turning into oncoming traffic and hitting cars. In each case, the bus is driven by an accredited, trained city bus driver in the nation's capital.

The newly released videos show events that occurred last August and September. They include dozens of collisions, 134 near-collisions and a number of traffic violations.

Those violations include buses driving through red lights, crossing double-yellow lines and, in at least one incident, running a stop sign. In one clip, a passenger can be heard telling the driver he'd just run a red light. The driver's response: "No, I didn't."

"It is pretty egregious, and it's clearly the inattention of the driver that's at issue here," said Joan Claybrook, president emeritus of the safety watchdog group Public Citizen, when CNN showed her the video of a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bus running a red light and nearly colliding with another vehicle.

CNN Radio affiliate WTOP obtained the videos through a Public Access to Records Policy request. CNN obtained the videos separately from Metro officials. The videos were shot by Drivecams -- cameras mounted on the dashboards of public vehicles, including 1,500 buses.

Asked about Metro bus drivers in the Washington area, Claybrook said "They clearly need more training if you have examples like this."

Claybrook said distractions and stress are huge problems among city bus drivers nationwide. "Another problem is, sometimes the scheduling is too tight, or there's a lot of traffic on a given day, and they're trying to keep the schedule. So they're moving quickly; too quickly for the bus, and for the safety of the bus."

But Metro officials disputed the suggestion that their bus drivers lack adequate training.

Jack Requa, Metro's assistant general manager for bus operations, said Metro has a rigorous training program that uses the videos as teaching tools.

"When an operator is running a stop sign or running a red light, we have disciplinary procedures, and those are applied to an operator in that case," Requa said. "And, certainly, then they are retrained. We make every attempt possible, and I think by showing them the clips themselves, showing them what they've done, there's no possibility of saying, 'No I didn't do that.' So we're working with the operators to coach them, so they'll operate in a more safe manner."

Requa and other Metro officials said incidents of recklessness among their drivers are rare and the number of accidents has dropped since 2010, when the Drivecams were installed. The rate of "customer injury" on Metro buses is two per million passenger trips, they said.

Metro officials added that they have a zero-tolerance policy on distraction: If a driver is found to be using a cell phone while driving, he or she is terminated. And the officials point out that drivers have a tough job.

"We carry about 543,000 passengers on a given weekday, we've got the challenges of pedestrians, double-parking, events that are taking place, construction," Requa said. "But the numbers are getting better, and we think that the program works."

Metro officials point out that they're operating in a region rated the worst in traffic congestion by safety groups and one that safety experts say has some of the worst drivers in the nation.

Asked about the pedestrian who was hit by a Metro bus, Metro officials said he wasn't seriously injured.

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