According to NIOSH, taxi drivers are 60 times more likely to be murdered on the job than workers in any other profession. Also, according to NIOSH, taxi drivers have the third highest rate of assaults. The accuracy of this figure is greatly compromised , however, by the fact that approximately 75% of attacks against taxi drivers go unreported. Taxi drivers face by far the biggest risk of violence in the workplace, yet their plight is largely ignored. The names flashing on the screen, by the way, are names of cabdrivers who were murdered at work. They are ALL real people. People who had friends and families and hopes and dreams and each one of them was just trying to earn a living. Just doing his job. Sadly, I have not had time to add the latest names. Four more drivers have been murdered in the last four days. Friday, two children on their way to school found a driver’s body in his taxicab in Stockton, California. On Saturday, Andrew B Kamara was murdered in Washington, DC. Also on Saturday, Ralph Moreau was murdered in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was only 28 years old. And another driver, whose name has not yet been released, was murdered in Baldwin Park, California just yesterday.
Taxi drivers work with the public, carry cash, work alone, work at night, and work in high crime areas. They don’t carry much money, but other than that, they are almost the perfect victims. Let’s suppose YOU are the potential criminal. The cab driver is at your beck and call. Just pick up the phone and he’ll come right to your door - or street corner - and transport you to wherever you feel you will be most likely to get away with robbing, assaulting, or even murdering him!! Charles Rathbone, researcher and statistician for the International Taxi Drivers Safety Council and currently a San Francisco cab driver, wrote a paper entitled “Why Do They Kill Cabdrivers? His research has revealed that easily half the taxi driver homicides were motivated by something other than robbery. That theory is supported by the often excessive violence associated with taxi driver homicides along with confessions of accused murderers. For example, one of the young men who killed cabdriver, Duane (Dusty) Hutsell in Spokane, Washington stated that he and his friends had called the cab with the intent to murder the driver.
Despite the dangers of the job, current regulations governing the industry are geared toward the comfort and protection of the passenger with little, if any, regard for the protection of the cabdriver! There are regulations that require the driver to pick you up just because you asked - refusing to transport someone requesting a cab is punishable by fines and revocation of the hack license even BEFORE the driver is granted a hearing! There are regulations that require the driver to take you wherever you want to go via whatever route you choose. Some cities even have regulations requiring the cabdriver to play your favorite music and make sure the temperature inside the cab is as warm or cool as you would like it and stay off his cellphone for the duration of your journey. And let’s not forget the regulations that prohibit the driver from carrying anything that he might use to protect himself. Even pepper spray is prohibited! It’s little wonder that so many cabdrivers are assaulted, robbed and murdered!! Where else is a criminal going to find such a cooperative and helpful victim??
Often after a cabdriver is murdered, the regulating district is approached by the drivers with requests for safety equipment such as in-cab cameras or partitions. Then the “investigation” into requiring safety equipment in the cabs might be set into motion. The city may commission a “study”. Never mind the fact that this same study has already been undertaken in various cities around the world! “OUR city is different.” Generally, each new study has similar conclusions to the previous studies done over the last 30 or so years. Safety equipment WILL make the job safer. And not “just a little bit” safer. Manitoba reports that since shields were installed in their cabs, crime against cabbies has dropped 80%. Boston reported a 70% drop, “. New York City went from 40 or more homicides a year to NONE in medallion cabs outfitted with safety shields. Shields DO work! And according to the cost benefit ratio found in The Effectiveness of Taxi Partitions: The Baltimore Case , published in June, 1999, the benefits of shields are greater than the costs associated with shield installation by a ratio of 17 to 1. But the regulators still seem unable to take action. With cameras, they become concerned with the passenger’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” and with shields, they are afraid the airflow to the backseat might be obstructed, making the passenger a bit uncomfortable during his 10 minute cab ride or they are afraid a passenger neglecting to follow the seatbelt laws and buckle up might get hurt in the event of a sudden stop. Another objection is that the shield may give the visitors the impression that the city is “not safe”. And then there’s the cost. Shields and cameras cost money. Who’s going to pay? Should the regulating authority put such a burden on the cab owners? How will they afford it? Regulators barely think twice before requiring cab companies to spend thousand of extra dollars to purchase only newer model cars as taxis, but they spend months - even YEARS - studying whether they should require the companies to spend another $200 or so to install safety shields to protect the drivers’ lives! Regulators, it seems, are more concerned with image and appearance than they are with human life!!! In addition to being shallow and irrational, I find this way of thinking morally outrageous! Too bad the taxi industry is structured in such a way that driver safety will only be accomplished through regulation.
Taxi companies that only use Independent Contractors are not subject to OSH Act coverage. And 90% of the cabdrivers in this country are called independent contractors. Companies using only so-called independent contractor workers are not required to provide a safe workplace. Nor are they required to withhold taxes, pay social security, provide benefits of any kind, or provide workers’ compensation. These companies have neither the obligation nor the incentive to protect their workers. An injured driver has no effect on them. Even a dead driver does not affect them. As any taxi company owner or manager will tell you, there are plenty more drivers where that one came from. Because the majority of cab drivers in this country are immigrants, the company has little fear of lawsuits being instigated by the surviving family when a driver is murdered. And some companies, have covered even that remote possibility by requiring new drivers to sign a waiver stating that they know the job is dangerous and they don’t want safety equipment and they absolve the company of any responsibility should the driver get injured or killed on the job. Now, how could a brand new cab driver in the course of a 20 minute interview come to understand the dangers of the job when it takes professionals who’ve studied the industry statistics months - and sometimes YEARS - to figure that out? The job is certainly not going to get any safer if we choose to wait for the COMPANIES to voluntarily safeguard their drivers.
In addition to safety equipment such as cameras, safety shields, GPS, silent alarms, panoramic mirrors, automatic trunk releases and voice radios, companies can develop cooperation with the police department and train drivers and dispatchers in safety procedures and danger signs and how to diffuse potential problems. Deaths and assaults of cabdrivers could easily be greatly reduced. And making the job safer will encourage a higher caliber of cabdriver, which will, in turn, increase the level of service and the professionalism of cab drivers. Wouldn’t THAT help a city’s “image”? The means and the methods for making the job safer are readily available. Seems only the desire is missing. The cab driver who brought me to the hotel a couple of days ago got right to the crux of the problem when he said, “They need to realize that cab drivers are real human beings - NOT JUST DIRT!!!“
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