Driver Cellphone Ban

On my way to class Tuesday night on the 43 outbound, my Muni driver inexplicably hopped off the bus at the Laguna Honda stop. At first I thought the bus had a mechanical problem, but the driver was acting a bit erratically — stepping on and off the fully powered bus while talking on his cellphone. Each time he stepped back on, we riders cocked our heads expectantly his way, hoping for some sort of announcement about why a perfectly functional bus wasn’t approaching our destination.

After about 13 minutes of idling (I was astutely watching the scrolling clock tick away on the digital placard), the driver reclaimed his seat at the wheel and resumed our route.

I found it very odd that: (1) the driver made no announcement about the nature of the delay, and (2) the riders (including me) made no attempt at protesting or asking what had happened. Mad at myself for not being more vocal, I decided to break my reticence just before my stop. I lumbered up to the driver and asked,

“What happened at Laguna Honda?”

“I got an emergency call.”

“Is everything OK?”

“Nope.”

Admonished for my previous frustration, I told him I was sorry and I hoped for the best. Although I empathized with the driver and his misfortune, I also wondered what Muni’s policy is on drivers taking emergency phone calls. The June 14, 2008, accident involving the T-Third train ramming into the N-Judah might have been caused by the driver using her cellphone. My operator wasn’t driving while using his cell phone, but upsetting news can involuntarily retard operating skills and put passengers in danger.

Recently, California and five other states enacted cellphone laws to abolish drivers from using handheld devices. What’s the policy for bus and public transit drivers?

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, all school bus drivers are banned from cellphone use when passengers are present. That means while driving or not driving. Are Muni drivers enforced to follow the same rules as school bus drivers? I couldn’t find the answer on the SFMTA site, but the answer seems implied in my opinion.

Driving or not driving, emergency or not, I don’t think Muni operators should be allowed to use cellphones. What do you think?

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