Muni bus accidents declined by 50 percent last year, which the agency’s safety director attributes to a new video surveillance system that documents accidents and poor driving by transit operators.
Installed in all 800 of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s buses in November 2009, the DriveCam is activated automatically by jarring events such as quick accelerations, the jerking of a wheel or the slamming of brakes. It’s mainly used for recording accidents, collisions and improper driving techniques.
By recording exterior and interior footage of such events, the SFMTA has been to able to identify trouble spots on its transit system and root out operators with particularly poor driving records, said Reginald Mason, the agency’s safety and security director.
After cataloging such incidents, the agency has refined its training methods to specifically address common traffic mistakes made by operators. It also has used the information to discipline and suspend drivers with particularly bad records. SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said operators have been fired for repeated infractions captured by DriveCam.
In 2010, the first full year of DriveCam’s use, avoidable accidents on the bus system fell by 33 percent and unavoidable collisions dropped 57 percent from their 2009 totals. The total number of bus accidents dropped from 964 in 2009 to 483 in 2010, a 50 percent decrease.
Specific incidents such as near-collisions, late reactions, running red lights and trailing too close behind a car have all declined steadily since DriveCam was installed, department data show.
“DriveCam works well as both a training tool and a disciplinary measure,” Mason said. “The operators are more aware of their actions because of the camera, and they’re receiving better training because of the information we’ve gathered from past accidents. When the operators know they have Big Brother watching them, it makes them want to do the right thing.”
Along with reducing the number of accidents on the bus system, Mason said, DriveCam has helped most of the agency’s least safe drivers clean up their acts. Of the 22 drivers with the worst accident records, all but two have improved their performances since DriveCam was installed, Muni records show.
Mason said the agency is working with the makers of DriveCam to see if the program could be expanded to the 150 vehicles on its light-rail fleet. Installing DriveCam is cheap — as low as $500 per camera compared to several thousand dollars for the agency’s other surveillance equipment, Mason said.
Officials from Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents more than 2,000 transit operators, did not return calls for comment on DriveCam.