April 28, 2006
That Wild Taxi Ride Is Safer Than You Think, a Study Says
In a city where almost everyone has a story about zigzagging through traffic in a hair-raising, white-knuckled cab ride, a new traffic safety study may come as a surprise: It finds that taxis are pretty safe.
So are livery cars, according to the study, which is based on state motor vehicle records of accidents and injuries across the city. It concludes that taxi and livery-cab drivers have crash rates one-third lower than drivers of other vehicles.
"This is one of the most important studies we've seen," said Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, who said the city had not asked for the analysis by a Brooklyn consulting firm or paid for it, but was nonetheless happy to receive it.
"Our drivers get a bad rap," Mr. Daus said. "Our hats go off to them."
The study was undertaken by Bruce Schaller of Schaller Consulting, a former staff analyst for the taxi commission and New York City Transit who now works as an independent transportation consultant for several cities and transit agencies. He said that he was not paid, that he obtained his state accident records through a Freedom of Information Act request and that he pursued the analysis out of personal interest.
"The public perception is that taxicab and livery drivers are less safe than other drivers in New York City," said Mr. Schaller, citing surveys by New York City Transit showing that riders, when asked to rate "safety from accidents" on a scale of 1 to 10, give private cars a 7.6, and taxis a 5.7.
But Mr. Schaller, pointing to the strict licensing requirements of taxi and livery drivers, their knowledge of the streets and the financial risks they face by driving carelessly, said the results of the study "are not so surprising."
He said the city's own records show that the job longevity of cabbies has steadily increased since the early 1990's, to 9.2 years in 2005 from an average of 5.7 years in 1993. Drivers with more experience tend to drive more skillfully, and more safely, he said.
Some of the findings set off alarm bells about passenger safety. When cabs are involved in accidents the passengers are about twice as likely to suffer serious injuries than the passengers of private cars, the study concluded.
It documented one of the reasons: Relatively few taxi riders wear seat belts, and are under no requirement to do so by state law or city rules. Another reason for the serious injuries is the partitions in taxis, which are designed to protect drivers from passenger attacks, but can cause head and upper body injuries to passengers when the cabs crash or stop suddenly.
And if you are riding a bicycle, watch out. The study concluded that bicycles are about twice as likely to collide with a cab than other vehicles, a danger that experts attribute to the risks of "dooring," in which passengers in parked cabs throw their doors open in front of oncoming bikes.
Still, the overall findings of Mr. Schaller's report are that the safety of taxis and livery cars has improved over the years, and that it compares favorably with other vehicles by several measures.
In a calculation of accident rates per million miles on city streets, it found 4.6 crashes for cabs, 3.7 crashes for livery cars and 6.7 crashes for all vehicles, including public and private conveyances. A livery car was defined as a black car, for-hire livery or limousine carrying fewer than nine passengers.
For a Manhattan resident who takes 100 cab rides a year, Mr. Schaller found, the chance of being injured in a crash is 0.4 percent in 10 years.
On the streets of Manhattan yesterday, the findings provoked a widely varied response from riders and drivers.
"It's not true," said Philip Lee, 42, a delivery driver from Flushing, who drives into Manhattan five days a week and finds the driving habits of cabbies a constant source of irritation.
"They only care about time," he said. "They only care about money. Even at red lights, they cross. They don't care."
But Liz Loughery, a financial executive from Philadelphia who hails cabs several times a week on business trips to Manhattan, said she had no fear.
"The windows were down, and it was fast and furious," she said as she jumped out of an uptown cab yesterday on Eighth Avenue and headed into Pennsylvania Station to catch her train home. "I'm more afraid inside Penn Station." .
Charles Bwuah, 50, a cabby from Newark, who has been driving a New York medallion cab for eight years, said he was not at all surprised by the study.
"You see, most people think taxi drivers don't know how to drive," he said. "But that's what they do for a living."