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IS CITY `LETTING INMATE RUN ASYLUM'?

Boston's famously bad drivers may have found a kindred spirit in their new transportation commissioner.

William E. Luster, who oversees traffic safety and parking, has a record that would make a driving instructor cringe: Between 1989 and 1994, he caused three accidents, got five speeding tickets and was arrested twice for driving with a suspended license.In fact, he was such a road menace he had to take a driver re-education course last year.

"You know what it is? It's the inmate running the asylum," said a 26-year-old cab driver who identified himself only as Thomas. "That is typical for Boston. I'm surprised he's not from Boston."

Luster, 36, left his job as Salem's planning director to begin his new job Wednesday in a city where drivers make illegal U-turns whenever the mood strikes and abruptly change lanes with a blaring of horns and the one-finger hand signal. Luster's driving record was first reported Friday by Boston's newspapers.

Mayor Thomas Menino reacted with surprise upon learning of his appointee's driving record but said he was satisfied after talking to him and labeled it "no big thing."

Luster said most of his driving woes stemmed from a 1989 speeding ticket. He planned an appeal but didn't show up in court, deciding to pay the fine the next day.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles, he said, failed to record his payment, and unbeknownst to him his license was suspended. So later, when he was pulled over for speeding, he was listed as someone who was not supposed to be driving.

"I'm not walking away from the speeding tickets, but I never had any indication my license was suspended, and I felt victimized by those two arrests," Luster told The Boston Globe.

Also, he was on the Registry's list of drivers who could not renew their licenses because he had not paid a Boston parking ticket from last year; he paid the fine last month when he was under consideration for his new job.