Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request for data on how many times the Taxi and Limousine Commission has permanently revoked TLC licenses of cab drivers for injuring and killing people since the adoption of Cooper's Law. The request follows several unsuccessful attempts to obtain the data from the TLC.
Cooper's Law gives the TLC discretion to suspend the TLC license of a cab driver who is involved in a crash that causes death or critical injury. In cases where a TLC licensee is convicted of a traffic violation or a crime stemming from such a crash, the law requires the TLC to revoke that person's license to drive a cab.
The law was named after Cooper Stock, a 9-year-old Manhattan boy who in January 2014 was fatally struck by a yellow cab driver who failed to yield, and was one of a number of traffic safety measures adopted to advance Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative.
Local Law 28, another Vision Zero regulation, requires the TLC to publish data on how many TLC-licensed drivers are involved in crashes resulting in critical injury or death, the number of cases where action against a driver’s TLC license was warranted and, of those, how many summary TLC license suspensions were imposed. The law also says TLC should publish information on subsequent “enforcement actions taken.”
But the TLC does not publicize what happens after the agency suspends the TLC license of a driver who hurts or kills someone, and does not list the number of TLC license revocations or reinstatements. Without knowing how cases are resolved, the public can't gauge how effective Cooper's Law is in getting dangerous cab drivers off the streets.
I first asked for Cooper's Law data last July, after the New York Press reported that the law had been applied just two times in the 10 months after it rook effect -- a time period when TLC-licensed vehicles were involved in more than 18,000 crashes. An in-depth piece published by the West Side Spirit last June said that to that point two TLC-licensed drivers had had their licenses suspended under the law, but those drivers were eventually reinstated by the TLC.
Last October I asked the TLC how the nine summary suspensions imposed from July 2014 to June 2015 -- the latest data available at the time -- were resolved. I didn't get an answer. In January I submitted a number of Vision Zero-related questions to the TLC, via email, for a future story. At that time I asked if the TLC has ever permanently revoked the TLC license of a driver for injuring or killing someone under Cooper’s Law, and if so, how many times. I received responses to most of my questions, but not that one. Earlier this month I emailed again for answers to the questions that were not addressed by the TLC, including the one pertaining to Cooper's Law, and did not get a reply. I filed a FOIL request on Wednesday.
"It concerns me quite a bit that there is no transparency," said Dana Lerner, Cooper's mother, in an email to Streetsblog. "How does one know if the law is being enforced and, especially, if the investigation which is supposed to follow is indeed happening, and what is the outcome?"
As Streetsblog has reported, one weakness of Cooper's Law is that it depends on NYPD to issue a summons or bring charges against a cab driver after a crash, when most New York City motorists who hit people are not penalized by police or prosecutors, even when victims have the right of way. Another shortcoming is that the law only applies in cases of critical injury, which excludes collisions that cause permanent injuries that were not considered life-threatening.
According to TLC data, in 2015 TLC-licensed drivers were involved in 35 crashes that resulted in critical injury or death. Of those, the TLC suspended the TLC licenses of 12 cab drivers. The public should know if those drivers are still operating cabs.
"Drivers get too many chances in my opinion," says Lerner. "While the TLC has made efforts to modify their training, there is still no plan to do in-car road testing for new drivers. Yet drivers who have committed a crime such as being involved in a crash do get remedial training. It seems to me that the TLC remains unable or unwilling to insure the utmost in safety, by making sure they have drivers who are indeed qualified."
Brad Aaron began writing for Streetsblog in 2007, after years as a reporter, editor, and publisher in the alternative weekly business. Brad adopted New York's dysfunctional traffic justice system as his primary beat for Streetsblog. He lives in Manhattan.