Daily News on Distracted Cab Drivers: What’s the Big Deal?

In an apparent quest to see which local daily can issue the most ridiculously auto-centric assessment of the problems plaguing the public realm, the "New York" Post has some competition.

amd_axel.jpgIn August, 8-year-old Axel Pablo was killed by a cab driver in Harlem. Witnesses say the cabbie was on his cell phone. Though police cleared him of wrongdoing, the TLC has since revoked his hack license. Photo via Daily News

Commenting today on pending action by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to ban the use of electronic devices by cab drivers while their vehicles are in motion, the Daily News wonders: What’s the problem?

According to the News, keeping cab drivers off the phone should only be required when passengers are present — apparently because News editors believe distracted driving is a mere annoyance, rather than a well-documented threat to public safety:

The present TLC rules forbid cell chatting while cabbies are driving.
That’s reasonable; you shouldn’t have to listen to your hack yack while
you’re paying $2 per mile, no more than you should be forced to listen
to the radio at full blast.

But when drivers are alone, using their cabs as cars — just like
millions do — they should live by the same rules as the rest of the
population.

So instead of advocating for more stringent distracted driving laws for everyone who gets behind the wheel, the editors of the Daily News would prefer that we "cut some slack" to thousands of professional drivers who patrol streets teeming with vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists 24/7/365. Never mind that cell-phone-using drivers, hands-free or no, are four times more likely to be involved in a crash. And remember that national summit a couple of weeks ago, when the U.S. secretary of transportation declared distracted driving a "deadly epidemic"? Honestly, people: Where have you been?

For the record, the Post is in favor of the new TLC rules. And no wonder. It’s hard to believe a position so ill-informed as that of the Daily News editorial board could be held by anyone who reads a newspaper on a daily basis, much less publishes one.

  • This looks like another “us vs. them” issue. People who ride in cabs are “us” to the Daily News editors, while people outside cabs are “them.” The same thing seems to be true for texting at the wheel, which makes me wonder if that’s not how this editorial was written.

    The editors of the News, the Post and the Times are all admirably progressive on some transportation issues, and shockingly reactionary on others. It doesn’t seem to correlate with any other position they take. I’ve given up on trying to predict which will be which on a given issue.

  • Glenn

    The two key fallacies of the Daily News perspective here is that taxi drivers are somehow LESS distracted when they are looking for a fare than when they have one and that they are only a danger to themselves.

  • Erin

    Taxis are not the same as other cars, and taxi drivers are not the same as other drivers. The taxi drivers are working the whole time: when they don’t have a fare, they are actively looking for one. How many times have we all been cut off, while walking, biking, or driving, by a taxi driver pulling across lanes to get to the curb? Many times for me.

    I’m really glad that the Daily News and later Streetsblog included Axel’s photo in the article. It’s so cute, and so terribly sad. We need to put more faces on the victims of street crime here. (And yes, I am using the words ‘street crime’ on purpose.)

  • Steven Crowell

    Elitism. Anti-cab-driver elitism. Classist, snooty-snoot, snobs with next to NO idea how much of a juggling act… cab driving IS.
    Distracted… yet less likely, per mile driven… by a looong shot, than the average schnook behind the wheel of a regular car.
    Cabs have had 2 way radio dispatching for over 50 years. I know, in NYC, you were thinking… cabs aren’t allowed to have radios for getting business calls. You should ask yourself… why is that so? Let’s digress for a second. Folks desiring a cab to stop for them… frustrated regulators with the incessant excuse used by drivers accused of not stopping… “I was on a radio call”.
    Moving on, 2-way radio operation involves handling a ‘mike’ button like ones’ life hinges on his reflexes. I can’t help but wonder how anyone could think the cordless cell phone is more of a risk than ‘mike’ cord. It is alarming to forget the cord and wrap it around the steering column while ‘palming’ the wheel into a turn. Relax, it only happens. The alarm teaches well. I’ve ducked raw eggs, rocks, phlem… you name it. Urban cab driving is not for daydreamers, they don’t last. The need to be adequately attentive is the real regulator. If paying attention, while driving, meant economic success or failure where not getting shot dead is harder than at any other occupation… then other drivers would be able to drive as aggressively as cab drivers and also enjoy a low accident rate. If cab drivers were really so bad… demand for rides would dry up in about an hour. Distracted driving is currently illegal as it is. Nobody needs ‘showboater’ regulators and legislators implementing redundant laws. If your driving results in an ‘at-fault’ collision you should expect a ticket and conviction. If I’m distracted by a vomiting rear seat occupant and don’t crash… leave me alone.

  • Steven Crowell

    Relax, it only happens “once”. Typo

  • I think you have some good points to make, Steven, but it’s hard to take them seriously when you lead with an a string of irrelevant and nasty insults whose target is unclear. It’s “snooty-snoot” to believe that traffic deaths like the one referenced here are unacceptable? This combination of childishness and cruelty is revolting.

    That aside, many of us are aware that taxis in NYC kill at a lower rate than vehicles in general and would like to account for this fact in policy. I’m of the opinion that amateur vehicle use in the city should be greatly reduced, which I’m sure would be good for the taxi business. Professional vehicle operators with poor safety records, like private sanitation companies, should face sanctions and eventually permanent closure if they’re unable to improve. (That is, we should make it more costly to drive giant trucks recklessly than to drive smaller trunks responsibly.)

    In that scheme yellow cabs do well but I’m still not satisfied with your safety record. By driving slower and less aggressively, cab drivers could be using their considerable skills to achieve zero traffic deaths. They could be paid better for safer driving, for sharing the road more generously with busses, pedestrians, and cyclists. Most of us that believe in “livable streets” (I suspect this is what you’re calling elitist, classist, etc.) see taxis as a partner in making city transportation better. You think a cell phone ban only for cabs is a bad idea? I agree, in the abstract. It should be for everyone, not just the safer vehicles on the road. But unfortunately we can’t regulate most vehicles as quickly and effectively as we can taxis. That is the problem that should be fixed, but until we do, I can’t oppose regulating only cabs in a way that I think all vehicles should be. Perhaps, though, if you didn’t try so hard to mischaracterize and bitterly insult everyone’s legitimate safety concerns we could find some common ground.

  • chris

    As a biker, every crash I’ve seen in NYC involves a Taxi—one crash involved two cabs! They need less distractions, so they’ll pay better attention.

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