Some New Jersey Transit drivers are completely distracted while doing their jobs, questionably even in control of the vehicles they operate, despite having hundreds of lives in their hands each day as they navigate congested tri-state roads, NBC 4 New York's I-Team has found.
Over the course of a six-month investigation, the I-Team found six different drivers taking their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel for seconds at a time. In each case the drivers were focused on counting tickets, a task they are supposed to do at the end of their shifts.
Video shot by an I-Team producer shows one bus cross the yellow line into oncoming traffic as the distracted driver counts tickets. Another driver looks down for seconds at a time while driving through a very crowded Lincoln Tunnel.
In 2014, 156 complaints were filed about distracted NJ Transit drivers -- a 26 percent increase over the 124 complaints filed the prior year, according to complaint data reviewed by the I-Team.
Last year's complaints included one dated March 6 that said, "I looked over at the driver. He was Skyping and using video message."
“It just takes 2 seconds for that distraction to cause a problem, especially at highway speeds," said Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA. "At 60 miles an hour you’re going 88 feet per second. In 2 to 3 seconds you've covered the distance of a football field. A lot of bad things can happen."
Ray Greaves, of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents NJ Transit drivers, said the distracted drivers the I-Team found do not reflect how most drivers behave behind the wheel.
"We have thousands of drivers and really there are only a handful of people violating these core safety principals," Greaves said.
New Jersey Transit officials said in a statement that safety is a top priority.
"Our employees are regularly instructed on our rules against driving while distracted. Incidents of this type are thoroughly investigated and result in swift and appropriate disciplinary actions –-- including suspension and termination," the statement said.