Monday, December 29, 2008

Bus Drivers Violated By Video Cameras

BUS drivers are so stressed by the pressure of their jobs that their driving could pose a threat to public safety.

A report by clinical psychologist Keryl Egan found the main cause of stress was a security camera trained permanently on drivers to monitor their performance, creating a sense of violation.

Most State Transit buses are fitted with six cameras, designed to protect passengers and drivers from violence. But the study, commissioned by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, reports one of the surveillance cameras is used to catch drivers committing minor offences, leaving drivers distracted and on edge.

"This is highly intimidating and has led some drivers to be ill-at-ease in their role and hesitant in their split-second decision-making, which normally would come naturally when driving," Ms Egan said. "Such preoccupation and stress is a public safety issue, as it will eventually lead to accidents."

The secretary of the union's bus division, Raul Baonza, said State Transit managers had used surveillance cameras to detect and prosecute minor breaches, such as driving outside of bus lanes, braking too quickly and not stopping at bus stops.

"The video footage has been used more to discipline drivers than protect the public," Mr Baonza said.

Ms Egan, the principal of Stormont Consulting, said she had not observed such intense scrutiny in any other industry.

The first draft of her report is based on feedback from 513 drivers from depots across the Sydney metropolitan area, including North Sydney, Ryde, Leichhardt and Randwick, and from Newcastle.

It concluded: "The way the footage has been used, as well as the placement of the camera directly onto the driver, a metre from the face, has also produced a complex sense of personal violation together with a change in the way a driver is able to do the job of driving a bus."

She said the centre of control had shifted from the driver, who was operating heavy machinery under stressful conditions, to the supervisor.

"This in itself has created a safety risk because of its effect on the driver," she said.

Transport Minister David Campbell said: "The safety of passengers and drivers is always the key priority and this has been greatly assisted by CCTV security cameras …

"Since the new digital system was fitted, these cameras have proved a deterrent to would-be offenders, as the number of assaults on State Transit drivers has decreased.

"It is the Government's policy that CCTV is used only for safety and security and not to monitor the work performance of bus drivers."

One female driver, based in the eastern suburbs, said she was aware that managers could "perve down my top whenever he/she feels like it and there is no personal privacy". Others reported that in confrontations with aggressive, drunk or drug-affected passengers the drivers had been made to feel like the offenders.

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