Safety takes a backseat on Texas public transport

Liam Verses

Notoriously stereotyped as reckless, young drivers supposedly show little regard for the rules of the road by blasting music, passing illegally and speeding. However, public employees drive recklessly, with plenty of footage and citations catching city employees running reds in Houston, Austin and Dallas. This recklessness by bus drivers and other public employees endangers public safety, and Texas cities must implement harsh repercussions for repeat offenders.

In 2007, before Houston stopped photographing red light runners, 30 intersection cameras caught more than 100 government vehicles — including metro and school buses — running red lights across the city. Those infractions resulted in $8,000 in citations. Running red lights increases the risk for accidents and was responsible for the death of 771 and injury of 137,000 people nationwide in 2015. A Houston Metro driver who ran a red light crashed into a light rail train and sent multiple people to local hospitals. That driver shouldn’t have been behind the wheel: That crash was his third as a driver for the city, all of which were his fault. More recently, several Houston ISD bus drivers were caught running red lights at the same intersection over a period of four days.

Austin isn’t immune to this red light phenomenon, either. Over a period of five years, 49 Capital Metro and paratransit drivers and an additional 28 school bus drivers were caught on several cameras running red lights across the city. Some of the school bus drivers were not penalized on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s grading system meant to discipline drivers. During that same time period, CapMetro drivers had four red light collisions, resulting in payouts of over $200,000 in liability and damage claims. A fellow Longhorn, Nick Engmann, was struck by an Austin bus that accelerated through a yellow light back in 2012.

Yet another city where safety is taking a back seat is Dallas. 480 traffic citations were issued to school bus drivers in under three years. Some bus drivers even passed other school buses that were unloading or loading children. That gaffe led to the firing of 13 drivers and the suspension of over 200 others. Originally, however, drivers weren’t punished and Dallas ISD used $80,000 of taxpayer money to pay the fines. Even after a local report detailing these abuses, bus drivers racked up tickets at a rate of one per week in the subsequent seven-month period.

A 20,000-pound vehicle illegally crossing through an intersection is a dangerous, potentially deadly, gamble. Texas isn’t unique in its red light predicament, but it should take steps at the local and state levels to fix it. One infraction should require mandatory training for drivers. Subsequent infractions in a period of two years deserve a zero tolerance policy, resulting in termination. Both policies would hopefully dissuade drivers from making bad decisions. Endangering lives just to make up a few extra minutes is never an acceptable decision, especially when transporting children. Too often, employers are implementing a lenient, progressive approach to reckless driving. It’s about time harsher standards are adopted. Too much is at risk to allow dangerous drivers to transport people on Texas roads. 

Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio. Follow him on Twitter @liamverses.