Cracking Down on Cab Drivers

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:01

New legislation would yank TLC licenses of drivers who injure or kill pedestrians

A recent spate of pedestrian fatalities has sparked a massive push to overhaul traffic laws in the city, with leaders pushing initiatives that would hold cabbies more accountable for their driving.

On the Upper West Side, where three such tragedies occurred in January, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal submitted a legislation request that, if a subsequent bill is passed, would yank the Taxi and Limousine Commission licenses of cab drivers who, as a result of failing to yield, seriously injure or kill a pedestrian.

A legislation request occurs when a council member asks the City Council to make sure that a piece of legislation they want to submit would hold up under legal scrutiny, and is typically done in anticipation of submitting the actual bill.

The would-be law calls for a subsequent investigation into such an incident and if found guilty of the failure to yield violation, the driver's taxi license would be "automatically and permanently revoked."

According to Rosenthal's office, the current law penalizes a taxi driver who kills or seriously injures a pedestrian due to failure to yield by adding points to their license and imposing a small fine. If the taxi driver has fewer than six points on their license, they can get back on the road immediately.

"I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from my colleagues on the council, particularly those on the Transportation Committee," said Rosenthal regarding her proposal. "Where I've gotten the most interest is from constituents, people in the district who understand what happened with Cooper Stock are a thousand percent behind this."

On Jan. 10, nine-year-old Cooper was struck and killed by a cab at 97th Street and West End Avenue. According to reports at the time, Cooper was in the crosswalk, holding his father's hand, and the two had right-of-way.

"My community is calling for this," said Rosenthal. "The mother of the victim wants the name of law to be 'Cooper's Law' and I'm very passionate about helping to make that happen."

The same day Cooper was killed, Alexander Shear, 73, was struck and killed by a tour bus while crossing at 96th Street and Broadway. On Jan. 19, Samantha Lee, 26, was killed after being struck by an ambulance and a car at the same intersection.

Rosenthal said she's been told the council will contact her regarding the proposal shortly, and a piece of legislation could be submitted within six weeks.

The move comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his wide-ranging Vision Zero initiative, a plan that aims to reduce pedestrian deaths citywide. Among the 63 initiatives in Vision Zero are provisions that would stop a taxi's meter if the driver is speeding and place a black box-like recording device in all city taxis that could record data leading up to an accident.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance issued a statement regarding Vision Zero saying that they don't want to be used as a scapegoat for the city's traffic safety issues.

"Thirty-thousand taxi drivers average 60-70 hours per week behind the wheel," said the alliance. "Statistics show that taxi drivers are the safest motorists on NYC streets. Despite these numbers, given the high visibility of taxis, we've also been at the center of the debate regarding enforcement."

The alliance sees the issue in terms of the rights of their drivers.

"It strikes me as an affront from a civil rights and criminal justice standpoint, I don't understand why taxi drivers have to be held to a different standard as second-class citizens," said Bhairaivi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

Desai said permanently revoking a driver's TLC license, effectively their livelihood, is heavy-handed, especially considering permanent punishment like what Rosenthal is proposing doesn't take into account that drivers never intend to hit pedestrians.

The alliance said the solution to New York's pedestrian safety woes is to change traffic patterns and street design, install better lighting on the city's streets, assign more traffic control agents and install more speed signs. They also called de Blasio's proposal to install meter-stopping speed technology in city cabs is drastic and unfair.

"To shut off the meter in the middle of a fare is not only insane Big Brother, it's severe, cruel, and simply unhelpful," said the alliance. "Technology that can truly be helpful should be considered, but this would just be overboard. Drivers already have no guaranteed income, only expenses on the lease, fuel and vehicle repairs. We don't deserve to be singled out and punished to do even better."