Muni haphazard on accident-prone drivers 

Of the 2,110 Muni drivers on the transit agency’s roster in 2010, 348 — more than 16 percent — were in at least one “preventable” collision during the year. In Muni-speak, a preventable or avoidable accident means the agency’s safety inspectors determined the driver was at fault.

In 2010, there were 1,399 collisions, 379 of which were ruled preventable. Four drivers racked up three such at-fault accidents last year and 23 had two. Eight drivers were actually involved in five to seven collisions last year, although most of those accidents were ruled not their fault.

These revealing Muni numbers are an embarrassment. The San Francisco Examiner was only able to get the statistics by way of persistent Freedom of Information requests. Our Jan. 27 preventable accident roundup required at least two reporter calls to Muni per week for two months.

We were surprised by what the accident trend numbers revealed about the seemingly unstructured way Muni handles its discipline of collision-prone drivers. After undergoing counseling, training, a written warning and possible unpaid suspension for two to 10 days — virtually all drivers with repeat accidents are still behind the wheel, operating buses and light-rail vehicles on the busy streets of San Francisco. Only seven of them are even under consideration for possible firing.

Moreover, drivers can be found responsible for multiple accidents during the same calendar year, and if they manage to not be at fault in any more collisions for the next 12 months, their records are considered “cleared.”

This means some drivers could cause minor accidents year after year with no more punishments other than a stack of written warnings. However, a Muni spokesman said past major accidents could still be taken into consideration as part of a suspension or firing process.

And while all this was going on, on a typical 2010 weekday only 58 percent of the drivers were available to work. Some 345 were out sick (or on other short-term leave) and another 250 had regularly scheduled days off. But about 300 were on long-term nondriving status, for reasons ranging from disability to not having a valid driver’s license.

Yes, at least 52 drivers had no valid license or medical clearance to drive at one point during 2010 — two-thirds of them because of not passing a medical exam. Most of Muni’s unlicensed drivers are not collecting a salary, but they still accumulate health and retirement benefits. They also trigger costly overtime for other drivers to cover routes — and they cannot be replaced by new hires while their status remains unresolved.

It is only fair to recognize that just a handful of Muni drivers are having any sort of repeat accidents and the overwhelming majority manages to drive safely through The City’s difficult traffic. However, this troubling handful could be placing transit passengers and pedestrians at unnecessary risk.

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