How many crashes is too many?

The reports that Metrobus driver Carla Proctor had previously been involved in multiple on and off-the-job crashes has sparked some discussion about driving records and bus safety. At first glance it seems outrageous that someone who had been involved in two on-the-job accidents (with injuries) could still be driving a bus. The fact that she had been cited for driving an unregistered car with no insurance is also a bit outrageous.

However, we should consider the fact that Metrobus drivers spend all day, everyday driving a bus, and it's likely accidents will occur over a period of years. With this in mind, is two accidents in a seven year period too many? Metro General Manager John Catoe says no. He tells WTOP it's not a great record, but "it isn't what [he] would consider a bad record."

Metro classifies accidents in several ways, including "minor" and "major" and whether or not they are preventable. This makes sense, again, because bus drivers are likely to be involved in a crash at some point. It appears that these categories could use some rethinking. While it's understandable that if a bus gets, for example, rear-ended in rush hour traffic, that is not a sign that the bus driver is careless or unsafe. If a bus operator allows her bus to roll backwards down a hill, however, that seems more indicative of carelessness and unsafe practices. The same could be said for crashing into parked cars. While these may have been "minor" (though the second incident resulted in injury and a lawsuit) and "preventable" they seem to paint a more "unsafe" picture than rush hour fenderbenders.

So how many is too many, and can past accidents predict future one? After some brief research, I came across a fairly interesting document from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This report was focused on school bus crashes, but compares school bus accidents to other types, including mass transit buses. Looking at fatal transit bus accidents, from 1999-2005, 46.3% of bus drivers had been in an accident or had a citation in the 3-years prior to the crash (29.9% had been in accidents). In the case of Proctor, she had been on-the-job accident free for five years. Those USDOT figures don't tell us a whole lot, though. Transit accident numbers are difficult to nail down.

At this point it is unclear if Metro knew that Proctor had been cited for driving without insurance or registration--surely an indicator of poor judgement. It's also unclear what impact this would have had on her employment. I'd like to immediately say that Metro is responsible and kept an unsafe driver on payroll, but this is a bit tricky. It seems as though the two accidents in 2003 and 2004 should have been a red flag. Catoe has said he wants Metro to work on a system of cooperation with local motor vehicle departments to monitor bus operator's driving records. We'll see if that ever happens. Metro is also "examining the driving records of all bus operators."

It sounds like Metro's policy recognizes that bus accidents will happen, but could use some more work on classifying and taking accident circumstances into consideration. The realm of "minor" appears to be huge.


  1. At some point, I made a comment in response to a blog post here about the ineptitude of Metro.

    My comment was along the lines of: "Its cultural. The people running and working at Metro have the value system inherent to many native DC residents; a value system which tolerates ineptitude."

    Dave responded with something like: "Holy Shit, we're talking about management, not culture or where people were born, political correctness, indignation, indignation, indignation."

    But I stand by my original comment. There is a culture of corruption which permeates Metro and most DC-based municipal organizations. Catoe is a DC native. This bus driver is a DC native. The culture of DC is one of entitlement to underachieve and be overpaid.

    No other major city has such a high population of poorly educated, poorly socialized criminals. Look into it. Look into the way drug use and abuse infests all the nooks and crannies of DC's neighborhoods. Look into the highest per-capita HIV infection rate in the 'modern' world. Its right here in DC, and its cultural.

  2. My mother has been a school bus driver for over 15 years and has never had an accident; as far as I know, she has never had a vehicular accident and she's been driving for 42 years. I think any accident where the bus driver is at fault is too many - they are trusted with the lives of many individuals, and so the standard should be high.