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How Safe is Public Transportation?

When people discuss safety on public transportation, the conversation tends to focus on protecting ourselves from crime. We are advised to be aware of suspicious characters, to secure your belongings against theft, to report abandoned packages, etc. However, what about our safety from the vehicle itself? When we ride public transport, we trust that the operators of these vehicles have our best interests at heart. We have faith in the professionalism of not only the company that runs the vehicle and its operators, but also the city, state and national government entities devoted to the oversight of our safety. And yet, preventable accidents continue to occur.

In a 2008, 25 people were killed and 135 injured when a Los Angeles Metrolink commuter train ran through a red light and collided with a freight train. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the conductor was at fault for the accident due to his text messaging while operating the train. Not only did he make and receive several text messages during his shift, and just before the accident, his final text was sent just 22 seconds prior to the collision. Additionally, the conductor had previously received two warnings from his employers for improper cell phone. The NTSB report also concluded that the accident might have been prevented had the Metrolink followed earlier suggestions that it install an automated braking system that would have stopped the train before the collision.

Sadly, this is one of only many preventable public transportation accidents which have occurred due to the negligent use of electronic devices by operators. Though national and state officials have, as a result, created bans against texting and cell phone use by operators, violations continue to occur. For instance, despite a complete ban in 2009 by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) on operators’ use of personal electronic devices, in the first six months of 2009 alone, CTA received 236 complaints about bus and rail employees still using these devices.

Sometimes adequate safety measures are in place which the operators and/or their supervisors fail to follow. Such events include operators who fail to follow traffic regulations like speed limits, signaling, failure to maintain a safe distance; exceeding the maximum allowed number of hours worked leading to sleepy or distracted operation; the operation of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, narcotics or medication. Sadly, at times it is just a matter of lax attention to procedure. For instance, in 2009 a conductor was killed when two monorails at the Walt Disney World Resort collided. An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) showed that while procedures were in place to prevent this occurrence, they were incompletely followed. An electrician who failed to properly switch the trains to different tracks was an inadequately trained substitute for the regular employee. Also, the manager overseeing the system between shifts was providing instruction via radio from a restaurant rather than at a control console where he would have noted the failure to switch the track. With over 150,000 guests riding the Walt Disney World monorail a day, this type of negligence could have been much more tragic.

As a rider, there are a few steps you can take to increase your safety. If you witness unsafe activities, speak up. If a bus driver, for instance, is driving in an unsafe manner, at the next stop express your concern. If they are unresponsive, exit the vehicle and wait for the next bus. Always report any behavior which gives you concern, both to the managing company as well as any local or state departments overseeing that area of transportation. Be certain to note the time and place of the incident, as well as the vehicles number/name, and if possible, the operator’s name. If you or someone you know is injured while riding or by a public transport vehicle, contact an Illinois personal injury lawyer who can advise you of your rights.

About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation attorney that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.

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