TAXICAB DRIVER SAFETY

by Gord Barton
Taxi Training Instructor

GOAL:

To maximize personal safety for taxicab drivers

OBJECTIVE:

To ensure that all new and veteran taxi drivers fully understand and comprehend the basic safety rules that they need to follow and embrace.

MODULES:

Foreword:

It is extremely important that all taxi drivers, especially those of you that are new to the business, to understand the dangerous and complex nature of the industry itself, to understand some of the dynamics, to learn how not to become a victim.

Module 1: The danger of the industry

The taxicab business is a very different one from most occupations, and there is a very real and high risk of personal danger to each driver, and it appears to be getting steadily worse each year, and the statistics bear this out.

The last report on workplace violence and homicide places TAXI DRIVERS in the unenviable spot of #1 most dangerous occupation in North America at the present time, and this danger is rising. There are 20 homicides where taxi drivers are victims to every 100,000 drivers. Convenience store clerks are #2, being out 15 homicides to each 100,000 workers. In contrast, the police ratio is only 7 homicides to each 100,000 officers. This alone should tell you something.

The reasons for this are actually very simple in nature, seemingly unrealistic, but they are true, and they are as follows:

Module 2: Understanding the nature and personalities of people

Module 3: Learning how to "read" your customer

Module 4: Learning and understanding the basic safety rules.

1) Radio and the dispatcher 2) Be alert and aware.

You must keep yourself very alert and aware of what is going on around you at all times, whether you are parked or driving. Take good care of yourself, be rested, eat well, and get lots of exercise. The exercise and movement around you will get by handling peoples luggage, going to doors to get your customers, opening and closing doors all contribute to the enrichment of oxygen in your blood, which is what keeps up your energy and awareness.

You must be alert for traffic, using defensive driving tactics, and you must remain alert to who may be around you when you are parked on the street or a lot. If you don't, you are giving someone a chance to sneak up on you and catch you by surprise. You must be very alert whenever you have passengers in the car with you. If you snooze....you lose!

3) Do not flash or display your money.

Do not wear any type of expensive watch, neck chains, or wrist bracelets. If you do, you are providing motivation for the person to rob you. Buy a cheap watch, etc., the throwaway type. Make sure , if you must wear a neck chain, that it is very thin so that it will break before it can strangle you. Ensure that you keep a minimum amount of money on you, say change for a $20 bill, get a bank account and use the ATM machine and when you are finished for the night, simply withdraw it.

If your passenger offers you a large denomination bill, advise him you will take him to get it changed at a nearby store. DO NOT show him that you have money to change it.

4) Size up your passenger - assess risk.

Most passengers will pose some level of risk to you. Read them - assess them, then act accordingly. You must remember this point:

Never underestimate anybody !

5) Greet-and maintain eye contact with the fare when picking up

It is essential that you make eye contact with each and every one of your passengers, try to do it as they are entering your vehicle. The reason is simple: To greet them as a customer and send a subtle message to them : "I see you - you see me - I can identify you and I acknowledge you as a person as I do me". It makes it harder for them to want to hurt you. When you don't even bother to look at them, you send a message to them- you don't care about them, and that you are very careless and unaware. I cannot empathize enough how important it is for you to make eye contact with each and every passenger. Your life may depend upon it!

6) Know the city.

One of the key causes of disputes and arguments is in not knowing your way around the city and taking your customers by the wrong route. This will get them angry, and disputes can quickly turn into assaults, or worse. It is very important that you study and remember all the routes and streets so that you minimize any negative action by the customer.

7) Trust your instincts.

All your life while you grew up you learned things and stored the experiences in your mind. These learned experiences make up our "data" banks. These banks provide us with knowledge and understanding. These banks are what causes your "instincts" to react. These reactions are very real. Your gut instinct will be right 99% of the time. Listen to what your body is telling you!

8) Know emergency procedures

Each taxicab and limousine company has in place a set of emergency procedure rules, for use in different circumstances. These rules vary from company to company and you must make a sincere effort to learn them. They are not there for the company, but are for you and your personal safety. Learn what the trouble call signals are, learn where each emergency button or switch is on the vehicle that you are driving. Each one may be in a different location in the vehicle. Check the locations of the switches out each day as you enter the cab, so you remember where they are when you need them.

9) Always keep your windows rolled up..

I do not mean all the way up, just open enough so that you can speak to people and get air, but they cannot get their hand through the window to grab your hair or body and yank you out of the car or bang your head against the glass to stun you. This will allow you to have constant fresh, clean air, but yet be safe at the same time.

10) Always keep you doors locked.

This is extremely important if you are sitting at a stand, or on the street. Often you may be reading a paper or book while waiting for that next trip, and you sure don't want someone to come up beside you on foot without you noticing them and jerking open your door and attacking you. This also provides you the method to force the customer into the rear seats if you wish, or to ensure they sit on the right side of the rear seat, not behind you if at all possible. The idea is not to be taken by surprise.

11) Be extra careful late at night

The most dangerous hours for you to operate in are between 6:00 pm in the evening and 6:00 am in the morning. In particular, the darkest hours between 12:00 midnight and 04:00 am. Most assaults and robberies committed against taxi drivers occur during these late hours. At this time of the night, there a few people around as witnesses, and many of your customers will have been drinking, and liquor always causes trouble. And of course we all know, most criminals prefer to conduct their business in the dark hours. Even though these can be your most tiring hours, you cannot afford to be careless and unaware. You must maintain a high state of alertness during these periods of time.

12) Be aware of passengers who give you "vague" instructions

It is of utmost importance that you insist on your customer giving you a "fixed destination" as to where they are going, before you start driving away. Write it down on your "trip sheet or log". Some customers may say, take me to "whatever" street or give an uncertain destination. If they say, take me to the corner of Water and Anywhere, try to make them give you an exact address.

If they are unsure and balk, read this as a sign that you should be very alert to what they are up to. If they tell you to "just start driving - we will tell you the way", this is a classic danger signal to you. Just simply do not move and politely advise them that the "company's policy" requires you to get an exact address.

Then when they do give it to you or what is alleged to be the address, use your radio to advise the dispatcher of the destination address. This will serve three purposes: it will alert the dispatcher you have a problem, it will appear that you are telling the truth about company policy, and it will give the passenger the understanding that your dispatcher and others know where you are going. If the passengers still refuse, then do not give them a ride!

Should the passengers suddenly direct you to take a different route or turn here-turn there routine, this is a danger sign and you should immediately alert your dispatcher to the change of address. Your level of danger alert should be very high at this time.

13) Be careful of passenger seated behind you (Primary danger Zone)

Never let passengers sit directly behind you, if at all possible. This is your primary danger zone. 80% of all assaults and homicides are launched from the seat directly behind you, the driver. You cannot see behind you. Ask the person to move over to the right side of the seat, use any excuse , i.e.: to balance the car, company policy, or whatever you need, but politely get them to move. Buy a convex rear view mirror that replaces or fits over the regular one. This will allow you 100% back seat visibility. It also sends a message to the customer that you can see them. Keep visual eye contact through the mirror, especially if you are suspicious. Do not stare, just enough so they are aware you are keeping an eye on them.

14) Keep an eye on suspicious passengers

Depending on the risk level that you have assessed your customer at, you want to keep some type of watch over them while they are in your taxi. When you feel very uncomfortable or suspicious of your passengers then make absolutely sure to "keep watch" on them. Your body and mind are telling you to pay attention to these individuals so listen to them and do so. We must always, of course, be diplomatic and mind our own business in most instances when we have passengers who we consider very low risk.

15) Never tell customers you had a good shift

Never, never, ever tell an inquiring customer that you have had a good day and made a lot of trips or money. If they ask, use a little white lie, like for instance "I only got started an hour ago and its been pretty slow., or "it's really been dead today, you are the first ride in over an hour." Be polite, but evasive. Most people just want to make conversation, so they say "how is your day going, making a couple of bucks today" or "Have you been really busy, I hope so." Many people mean well, they know you work long, hard hours, and they are sincere in hoping you are making out all right. On the other hand they may be "feeling you out" to see if you are worth robbing. Gently try to change the subject without being impolite or nasty.

15) Carry a spare key

It is a good idea to have a spare key for the taxi you drive, get them made if need be, and carry it in your left pocket by itself, not on a chain. Should you be robbed, what will probably happen is that the robbers will rip out your radio mike so you cannot call for help, and may throw your keys away if they do not steal your taxi to make the getaway. They think by doing this they are depriving you of mobility. It is most unlikely that they will search you other than looking for your wallet and money. This way, should they leave the taxi, or dump it a short distance away, you can get it going after they have left in order to get assistance or press your emergency button. It also will prove it's value the day you lock yourself out of the car while getting a cup of coffee or whatever.

16) Never, ever, drive into alleys or back lanes

Never do this if at all possible. Tell your customer that company policy states "no back lanes or alleys". Some persons want you to go there for one reason: to get you out of sight where they can assault or rob you. If you must, then back into the alley, or lane, do not get out of your taxi, use the push button control to pop open the trunk if need be. Keep your vehicle running, in drive gear, and keep your foot on the brake pedal. This way if things go bad you can simply step on the gas and get out of harms way. Make the passengers get their own beer or whatever from the trunk. Do not exit the taxi - if you do you give them the chance to attack you. Once you are away from the area, you can stop, get out and close the trunk lid.

17) Know your location at all times.

This is very important to be able to tell someone where you are in case you get into trouble. Nobody can help you if they do not know where you are when you call for help. I suggest that as you drive, make a mental note of each street you turn onto, read the street signs. The last thing you have seen is what you remember. For example: north on Maryland, east on 2nd, west on West Drive. Besides, it helps you learn the geography.

18) Check all emergency equipment at the start of shift

Each day when you pick up your cab, the first thing you should do is a complete "circle check" of the vehicle. You walk around the vehicle, looking first for any damage that might be there, and if new, report same.

Then check your tires, make sure they all have good tread and are not worn or damaged. Ensure that each tire is inflated to 35 lbs p.s.i. At 35 lbs you get the best tread "print" or adhesion to the road surface, which gives you quality control over your steering and vehicle handling. At 35 lbs you get the best mileage both in fuel savings and tire wear. Nothing will bump up your fuel consumption and premature wear of tires than for them to be underinflated. This small check of tire pressure could save your life, and will save the owner of the vehicle money both in tires and fuel.

Make sure the oil and water are up, and the windshield washer fluid topped up. Ensure that the vehicle is clean and presents a good image to the public.

Check the inside of the vehicle. Check to see your "emergency" light switch is working and that the emergency equipment is in working order.

Check carefully the inside of the car for cleanliness and remove all garbage. Be very careful doing this. Do not shove your hand down between the seats or under them. Have a small flashlight and look first to see what is there. Pull up the back seat and look behind. Do this, because you never know when some "junkie" may have dumped a "needle" in the car and you may get pricked or "stuck" with it if you are not careful. You don't want to get AIDS or Hepatitis B, and needles are a main source of transmission of these dread diseases.

You also want to make sure that no weapons were dumped in there, or are handy for someone to use against you, such as beer and liquor bottles, knives, pieces of pipe or whatever. Make sure that if you find defects, get them remedied before you head out for your shift.

Remember, this is a daily portion of your " personal safety plan".

19) Never take more than 4 passengers

This is a major safety factor for you. In most taxi areas , 4 persons are the maximum that you are allowed to carry, and in some areas, only 3. You must remember, the more people in the car, the more there is to beat up on you should they choose to do so. If you are allowed to, try never to allow people to sit in the front seat, unless they are Special Needs Persons and have a wheelchair , and persons with guide dogs, as it is much easier for them to access the front seat area.

20) Encourage the use of credit or debit cards

You may think this is a silly idea, but it is not. In today's society credit cards and the new debit cards are being used more and more. By encouraging the use of them you cut down on the amount of cash that you carry, but people who use credit and debit cards usually tip better when they use the cards.

Eventually, very little cash will change hands and this is the way of the future, with new meters being developed and already some are in place to handle all cards. The use of cards is increasing every day, so why not take advantage of it? It will provide more safety for you and on top of that, will get you more gratuities or politely put "will increase your earnings". Besides, you don't have to collect on the "paper" your owner does while you keep the cash.

21) Do not be aggressive or argumentative.

This type of behaviour will always cause you a lot of grief, and may help escalate a minor disagreement into a violent confrontation, with you being the loser most of the time, and even if you win, you could be charged by the police for assault should the customer complain. Stay calm and controlled.

You cannot think if you lose control.

22) Keep calm - do not panic

Yes, this is easy to say, but hard to put into practise. It is most important that you stay as calm as possible. Be afraid - sure, we all are at one time or another. But, we must call on our innermost resources to stay calm and in control of the situation to a point. An easy way to do this is to say to yourself - "I have a family waiting for me at home - I can get out of this!" Think about your family in a positive manner, this will build inner strength and courage and will help you to temper your actions. Just keep saying to yourself - "Stay calm - I can get out of this!" It is most important that you keep this mindset as it will help you stay calm.

23) DO NOT RESIST a robbery (co-operate)

The best advice we can give you. Offer no resistance - just comply with the bad guy. If you resist you are going to escalate the situation drastically and you will be (not may be ) injured or even worse, murdered. It is just not worth it. We know you worked hard for that money, but a wise man is one who lives to work another day. If you get stabbed, shot, or beaten around the head, you will be severely injured, perhaps crippled for life, or dead. You will be of no assistance to your family, but will become a liability. Remember, what the robber wants is your money, maybe the car. Give it to him, even put the mailbox off the street in the trunk if he wants, but do not resist.

24) Try to stall

Most bad guys are in a rush. They know that time is on your side, not theirs. They want to do the deed, and get out of there, so they will not be seen or caught by anybody. We suggest that you comply with the demands, stay calm, and as we call it "walk the bad guy through" just as if it were a regular transaction. Tell him that you will comply, keep a steady quiet voice, do not show fear or beg, ( this could trip off some type of persons who love to dominate others). Tell the bad guy that you are going to give him the money he wants, and tell him what you are doing each step of the way. Tell him your money is in your pocket under your jacket - before you reach for it. we do not want him to think we are going for a weapon. Tell him there is no need to harm you, you will comply with his demands. Pretend that he is just a regular customer, you are giving him change, and sending him on his way. They will yell and scream at you to hurry, so don't be too slow, just careful. Talk quietly to him in a complying manner, but not too timidly.

25) Communicate with your dispatcher

When the robbery is finished, or you are able to, immediately call your dispatcher with the trouble code, your call sign, and your exact location. You want the world to know where you are, especially the other drivers on your radio channel so they can help you. If you are able to, without being noticed, trip your emergency button or switch on the taxi. This will alert others that there is a problem. It is most important that your give your location in a very clear, concise matter, so that you are understood by all. If they cannot understand you, how can they help you!

26) Do not threaten

In your taxi, you must maintain control at all times of both yourself and the situation at hand. Never ever threaten any person with violence if they won't pay, can't pay, or are acting up. If you do this, you will most probably provoke a most unpleasant occurrence in which most cases, you will be the loser. You can always work your way out of a problem or harm if you think it out first. If you lose your temper, you lose control, and that is when you get into trouble.

27) Look for an escape opportunity

As in any situation, for example Defensive Driving, we must always be preparing an escape route or plan. If you are being robbed, think about it without showing any sign of it to the robber. It is a move of last resort, so plan it carefully. Then, only if you can do so without injury to yourself, make your move. Try to do it in a populated, well-lit area, like an intersection, a store lot, anywhere there are people and lighting. Remember, it is an action of last resort. It is good sometimes when you are idle, to think through ideas of this nature under different circumstances, so that if you should need to act, then you may have some idea of what to do.

28) Memorize the suspect's description

When the attack or robbery is finished, immediately take pen or pencil and write down everything you can remember about the suspect, so that you can make a good witness for the police. Try to remember these details: sex, race, age, height, weight, hair colour and style, eye colour, scars or tattoo's, body marks, glasses, facial hair, voice - high/low, accented , ethnic, stuttering or other voice defects. The clothing, jacket, shirt, pants, shoes, and last but not least the type of weapon used, and exactly what the suspect said to you. If you can do this while your memory is fresh, it will greatly help in the apprehension of the suspect and his conviction. These bad guys do get caught more often than you believe, through good descriptions provided. We want to send a message to the world that we will do everything to catch the person and convict them for what they have done to us.

Summary

These are but a few techniques all drivers should study very carefully, and practice with diligence. They can save your life!

If by chance I have overlooked important additional considerations, please do not hesitate to make contact with me and let me know of changes or additions that will improve the quality of this course.

Gord Barton

Excel Resources and Training
Box 890, RR 1
Anola, MB
Canada R0E 0A0
(204) 866-2668
(204) 866-3657 (fax)
InterNet email: barton@mts.net


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