NYC putting limits on cab driver hours to reduce driver fatigue

Shirleen Allicot Image
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
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Shirleen Allicot reports on proposed rules limiting the hours of cab drivers to cut down on fatigue.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- In new rules proposed Tuesday, the Taxi and Limousine Commission is putting limits on the number of hours a TLC driver can be on the road in a day and a week to cut down on driver fatigue.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Meera Joshi announced the culmination of an extensive TLC review of the science and best practices of professional driver fatigue.

The proposed rule seeks to reduce the risks of fatigued driving by:

--Prohibiting all TLC drivers from picking up passengers for more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period, and more than 72 hours in any seven-day period.

--Allowing a driver who has gone eight or more consecutive hours without pick-ups to "re-set" his or her 12-hour work clock and begin making pick-ups again.

The TLC is trying to send a wakeup call. By cutting down the number of hours and getting rid of loopholes, they hope to cut down on the number of accidents.

But the union says it is simply a band-aid on a much bigger problem.

There are a total of 140,000 TLC licensed drivers, moving people around the city every day. Overtired drivers among them.

"They sleep in the car all the time and they make mistakes because they not focused," said one driver.

The TLC wants to stop this by pumping the brakes on the amount of hours drivers can be behind the wheel.

"It's pretty much common sense but its also backed up by a lot of research that the longer you're driving, your level of alertness decreases," said TLC chair Meera Joshi, who says the plan was pushed to the forefront after the tragic November death of an 88-year-old grandmother.

Luisa Rosario died when longtime cabbie Salifu Abubkar hit her while driving on the Upper West Side.

He told police he started his shift 16 hours before the crash and was found not to have broken the rules because he took breaks.

Joshi says the proposal prevents that loophole. "The new rules take into account that people take breaks, so driving 16 hours even with breaks won't put you outside the realm of the rule," she said.

The rules carry a $75 fine for a first offense, with even higher penalties and a 15-day suspension for those caught twice.

Drivers in yellow cabs and Ubers have been complaining about the need to be on the road longer to meet their bottom line.

"Nowadays it's very hard because of Uber, lots of competition, same passengers divided with many companies, now it's not easy to make money like before," said one driver.

Bhairavi Desai, head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, thinks instead of limits and penalties, she wants the TLC to make rules that put money back in drivers' pockets, like changes to car leasing costs and mandatory fare minimums.

"We agree that safety should be a priority but the solution to keep things safe shouldn't be to punish drivers, it should be to change the economics," she said.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for June 23.

"We add new elements to our Vision Zero plan all the time," said de Blasio, "and I believe that TLC's analysis of the science and best practices of combatting professional driver fatigue, and the resulting proposed rule, are a practical and prudent approach."

"To minimize the risk of a crash, drivers must be alert, which requires rest," said Joshi. "But these crashes are preventable with a reasonable limit on the hours during which a driver can pick-up passengers. Today's proposal does that. It is tailored to the unique dynamics of New York City, takes into consideration drivers' earning potential, is consistent with that of comparable industries in cities across the nation, and it is enforceable with data that is available to the TLC today. Most importantly, today, the vast majority of TLC-licensed drivers are well under the proposed limits."

An existing TLC rule addresses driver fatigue by limiting to twelve the number of consecutive hours that a taxi driver can drive for-hire.

That restriction, however, does not currently apply to for-hire vehicle drivers. The TLC reviewed the research on fatigued driving with the goal of developing new rules that would apply to its driver licensees across all of the various industry segments it regulates.

The city cited research concluding that long work hours lead to acute fatigue and reduced sleep. Over a period of days and weeks, the research shows, these long hours may lead to cumulative fatigue. For professional drivers, this means slowed reaction times and a reduced ability to assess situations quickly, potentially leading to driver errors and a higher risk of crashing.