Bus drivers 'put lives at risk'

DANGEROUS bus drivers in Edinburgh have been caught jumping red lights 70 times in the past year at some of the city's busiest road junctions.

A further five First or Lothian Buses drivers were captured on speed cameras breaking the limit in their vehicles, according to figures released to the Evening News.

Both bus operators said today they are taking the incidents very seriously, and have disciplined all prosecuted offenders.

Road safety groups condemned the drivers' reckless behaviour, saying they had put passengers, pedestrians and other road users at risk of serious injury.

More buses were caught jumping the red lights on South Clerk Street than any other road in the city, with other hotspots including London Road at Jock's Lodge and Leith Walk at Pilrig Street.

There are more than 20 cameras in Edinburgh to catch motorists ignoring traffic lights, and culprits are fined 60 and have three points put on their licence.

The 2006 figures were provided by the Lothian and Borders Safety Camera Partnership, following a request from the Evening News.

Partnership manager Colin McNeil said today: "It is always a concern when any driver runs a red light; they are putting themselves, their passengers, pedestrians and other road users at risk.

"When a vehicle runs a red light it is effectively 'collision time'. Even in a modern car, let alone a bus, a side impact crash can result in serous injuries."

Services operated by the city's largest public transport firm, Lothian Buses, were caught jumping red lights 52 times last year. And two of their vehicles were flashed for speeding at Muirhouse Parkway and Stevenson Drive.

First buses were caught jumping traffic lights 18 times, with three drivers fined for speeding at West Coates, Balerno and East Haugh in West Lothian.

All the offences have reached prosecution stage, although some are still awaiting payment or have yet to be finalised.

Elizabeth Lumsden, road safety manager for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Scotland, said: "Going through a red light is a very dangerous activity.

"There could be pedestrians who are confident that it is safe to cross the road, and they last thing they are expecting is a bus coming towards them.

"The same applies for motorists following the rules of the road. Using cameras to catch people jumping red lights is an important tool in the enforcement of road safety."

Edinburgh's first red light cameras were introduced in 1993, with the latest installed in 2004.

They are now at 23 sites across the city, however, only six operate at any one time.

The cameras are activated only if motorists drive across a junction more than one second after the lights have turned to red.

Iain Coupar, Lothian Buses' marketing director, today said bus drivers must pay their own fines if prosecuted. "We take this very seriously and one incident is one too many. If it goes all the way to prosecution and the individual pays the fine or is found guilty, we then issue a final written warning to the staff member."

He added: "Incidents of speeding are also taken very seriously, and we have our own driving standards officer who is out and about in Edinburgh with a speed gun to monitor bus speeds."

A spokeswoman for First said: "Drivers found to be breaking the law by jumping red lights will be dealt with through our company's disciplinary procedure.

"At First, we treat all reports and allegations of our staff's driving standards very seriously and if these are founded then our staff will be subject to disciplinary procedure."