Last week I got out of a cab on the northeast corner of West End Avenue and 97th Street. I braced myself, as I always do when I return to that spot. I watched, in horror, as another cab driver proceeded to run a red light, speed through the intersection, and make the same sharp left turn onto West End Ave that killed my son, Cooper Stock, over a year ago. My heart dropped into my stomach.
I learned shortly after my husband was hit and my son was run over on Jan. 10, 2014, that in New York City, cab drivers could actually kill people on the road, maintain their license, and keep driving without any punishment.
I know for a fact that there are many drivers who have seriously injured or killed people who are still allowed to drive and are on the road right now. The City Council passed Cooper’s Law in the summer of 2014 as a way to take dangerous drivers off the road. Their licenses are suspended pending an investigation. But what happens next? How can we be sure that only people who are equipped to be professional drivers are the ones picking us up on the streets?
During this year I have attended numerous TLC hearings as part of the advocacy work I am doing for a newly formed organization called CabRidersUnited.org. I was floored to learn that drivers are not required to have any sort of training on the streets in NYC. No road test is required. How can a professional driver be hired if they have not been adequately tested on the streets of NYC?
The education for cabbies in New York is substandard as compared to many other cities. Yet we have one of the largest fleets. The TLC under the new leadership of Meera Joshi has begun to take long-overdue steps to try to ramp up the training. But it is an egregious oversight that drivers are not road tested on the streets they will be working on. When I confronted the TLC commissioners about this deficiency, the only answer I received was, “It is not part of the curriculum.”
The main requirement is a defensive driving course. This consists of hours in a classroom and, until very recently, could be completed online. If you were going to have surgery and you could have it performed by a doctor who has read about it in a book, or by one who has actually done the surgery under the supervision of other doctors, which would you choose?
Being a taxi driver is very hard work. They typically work 12-hour shifts with little or no break. There is sleep deprivation, the pay is very low, and therefore there is pressure to get as many fares as possible. Maneuvering around the crowded streets of New York without ever having driven here is simply ludicrous. It puts TLC drivers who are not capable or suited to this type of work immediately in a compromised state. That decision puts drivers at risk to themselves and in my son’s case, to others.
The NV200, also known as “The Taxi of Tomorrow,“ is currently on the streets and is expected to replace most sedans, SUVs and other mini-vans as of April 2015. One new feature is sliding doors to prevent hitting cyclists and pedestrians and also potentially soften the impact if a person is struck. This is an essential part of the design because of the heavy concentration of pedestrians and vehicles in New York City. But, it is a larger and different vehicle, a different driving experience, and therefore potentially harder for people to navigate. There are also different blind spots. Isn’t it only logical that drivers receive on-the-road training to ensure safety?
Every single day in our city 200 people are injured by cars. Above all, it is the TLC’s job as the agency that licenses 75,000 vehicles that drive 24 hours a day in our neighborhoods, to ensure safety and not contribute to the number of New Yorkers injured or killed.
Adding a road test into the curriculum is an easy task -- and it is an issue of common sense.