- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Not every Metrobus operator can reasonably be called out of control, but many can be — and those bad drivers are the cause of grim news like Wednesday’s. A Metrobus failed to yield in a crosswalk at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW during rush hour and struck and killed two pedestrians crossing with a “walk” signal. These were the third and fourth such deaths in the District since June — and not, say police, the result of bad weather conditions. It’s past time to rein in the drivers.

Metrobuses have a deserved reputation for running red lights and driving aggressively — and that’s saying something in the District, which ranks second-to-last in insurer AllState’s national driver-safety rankings. (Only Newark, N.J. is worse). The size and heft of a Metrobus often seem to become a license to break the rules — which, in a region with drivers as erratic and accident-prone as Washington’s, is less than surprising but no less excusable for it. Things have worsened to the point that the pedestrian’s rule of thumb is to assume that a bus will run a red as a matter of course, while motorists are well advised to assume that a Metrobus will cut off most any vehicle unfortunate enough to be smaller, which is everyone else.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., a native Washingtonian and taxi driver’s son who has been on the job for only a month, is something of a bus expert who should be ideally positioned to depart from business as usual. Yesterday, he ordered one to two days of annual safety training for all Metrobus operators in the wake of the two deaths downtown — which is merely cosmetic so soon after Wednesday’s deaths. This should be the beginning of the changes. Metro must figure out how to change the mindset of its drivers. Why do drivers think they can break the rules? Do they simply mimic everyone else’s poor driving? Those are the starting questions.

Unruly bus drivers fit its overall abysmal record on traffic safety, who on average have an accident every five years. Why shouldn’t buses be required to set an example? They’re taxpayer-funded and they’re the biggest monsters on the road. With an acceptable record, the streets come closer to being safe.

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