Muni assigns little blame to its drivers in collisions 

Eight of Muni’s drivers were involved five or more accidents in 2010, but because most of the collisions were determined not to be their fault, they’re still behind the wheel.

Last year, two drivers were involved in seven accidents each, three were in six, and three more were in five apiece, according to data provided by Muni in response to a public-records request.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose was unable to say how many of those accidents were the fault of the drivers. But Muni’s accident investigators appear to find agency drivers involved in such incidents at fault less often than is the case at three other West Coast transit agencies surveyed by The San Francisco Examiner.

When a Muni vehicle is involved in a collision, Rose said, a safety team responds and determines whether the accidents were avoidable — and therefore were partly or entirely the fault of the driver. After such accidents, drivers are counseled, retrained and given a written warning.

If the driver is determined to be at fault, depending on the severity of the accident, he or she can be suspended for two or 10 days, or fired. However, over the past two years, Muni safety officials have found drivers at fault in only 25 percent of the agency’s accidents.

Driving instructor Juan C. Guerrero, who owns Guerrero Driving School in the Mission district, questioned whether Muni is accurately assigning blame in accidents.

“If someone has seven accidents, even if it’s not their fault, I would worry about that person,” Guerrero said. “Those teams are sent by [Muni], and there’s liability against them, so most of the time they’re going to find the driver innocent because it’s their best interest.”

While Federal Transit Administration officials said they do not track how many collisions are avoidable and unavoidable, three urban public transit agencies surveyed last week all provided collision data suggesting that Muni may not be taking as hard a line on preventable accidents as taken by other transit agencies.

Compared to Muni’s finding of driver fault in 25 percent of all reported accidents, the East Bay’s AC Transit found driver fault to be at 30 percent. Seattle’s King County Metro recorded 33 percent, while Portland’s TriMet recorded 47 percent.

Walter Scott III, secretary and treasurer of Transit Workers Union Local-250A, said safety teams are rigorously trained in federal standards and it is unlikely they are more forgiving than other cities’ agencies.

As for drivers with several accidents, he admitted that “everybody’s not meant to be a bus driver,” but he also noted that drivers in San Francisco face extremely difficult conditions and navigate roadways populated by cars, pedestrians, bicycles and taxis, all of which are not always attentive.

But Judy Lundblad, owner of Ann’s Driving School in SoMa, questioned whether Muni should be employing drivers so prone to accidents — regardless of whether they were directly at fault.

“Every accident is avoidable, at some point along the way,” she said. “It makes me wonder what Muni’s standards are. It just seems that the standards are too relaxed for me.”

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Katie Worth

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