Friday, February 27, 2009

NSW Taxi Drivers’ Association Submission Regarding Seat Belt

NSW Taxi Drivers’ Association Submission Regarding Seat Belt

Yesterday was a RTA/MoT/Workcover meeting about "Seat belts" following the Madden Report. Many people from the NSW TDA Committee, and Geoff and Ernie and a number of others, contributed significantly to the position paper below as presented. Attending the meeting from the NSW TDA Committee were Anne Turner, Trevor Bradley, Rodney Sayer, Ray Prasad and myself. Rodney very convincingly demonstrated the non-strangle Lime `silver service' tie.

It was stressed by RTA that the meeting was NOT to make decisions about seatbelts. (My) understanding of the meeting was they agreed they must get detailed statistics on :

- Driving risks
- Risks of strangling
- Risks of escape
- Working restrictions (in and out of cab etc)
Many thanks to all for major contributions.


ABN 98 653 928 763
PO Box 322, Alexandria NSW 2015

Secretary: Ted Hirsch Mob: 0432 665 822 Phone:9810 1136
` A Fair Share of a Fair Fare'

26 February 2009 PRESENTATION: -


The NSW Taxi Drivers Association is the only democratic, elected organization that represents NSW taxi drivers. It is open and transparent. It was formed during its successful campaign against the No Desto proposals in mid 2004. The motto of the NSW TDA is "A Fair Share of a Fair Fare". "A Fair Fare" reflecting the interests of taxi drivers in which safety is paramount. And "a Fair Fare" which reflects its concerns for a viable, effective taxi industry and good service to the public.

Initially we ask where the initiative for a review of non-compulsory seat belts originates. And why compulsory seat belts, as such a critical issue to the taxi industry, has not been introduced with a white paper setting out the reasons for any proposal and its pros and cons. To which informed responses could then be submitted, or discussed at a forum such as this. And what are the processes subsequent to this forum? As a consequence this presentation may not be complete and we request to reserve the opportunity to make a full submission.

By unusual coincidence, this very week a letter from the Minister for Transport dated 19 February 2009 was individually addressed and postal delivered to the home of every NSW taxi driver. It reports improvements effected as a result of the Madden Report (Taxi Industry safety and Security Taskforce report). These improvements are commendable, but much more would be expected to be done resulting from the Madden Report - and from the many previous reports on the taxi industry going back as far as Keatsdale.

The Minister's opening is that " Taxi drivers and their families have the right to expect their safety to be a top priority … ". And on that the NSW TDA and all NSW taxi drivers and their families wholeheartedly support the Minister for Transport!

Seat belts are about safety; safety is a top priority for the NSW TDA and all taxi drivers. And the NSW TDA strongly supports the use of seat belts by all drivers for their safety. And in this regard the NSWTDA most strongly supports ongoing education campaigns for the use of seat belts (if such education is considered warranted) and recommends that the Taxi Council and MoT should constantly encourage the use of wearing seat belts for driving safety. The NSW TDA would be pleased to work with and provide advice to help achieve the most effective seat belt education /information campaigns for taxi drivers. But, it has to be asked, where are such campaigns (and others), and why do they not occur? Especially when the Taxi Council derives its funding indirectly from drivers' earnings.

And the NSW TDA would also encourage Network seat belt reminder messages, say monthly, on all taxi radio MDTs. Reminders that are effective and virtually cost free.

However, the NSWTDA and the taxi drivers of NSW do NOT support Compulsory seat belts!

Compulsory seat belts in the taxi industry is a punitive approach. It is an approach open to petty revenue raising with devastating effects on the earnings and licenses and livelihoods, and the supply, of taxi drivers. It is an approach that is frequently unsafe for taxi drivers! It is an approach that flies in the face of all known experience for the last 35 years of the taxi industry!

The NSW TDA unambiguously and very clearly represents the opinions of NSW drivers' on the question of compulsory seat belts. The NSW TDA deliberately asked this question in its Squeaky Wheel newsletter of June 2008 only eight months ago, debated it at its August 2008 AGM and advised drivers of the outcomes in the following Squeaky Wheel issue. 4000 copies of each newsletter are always distributed to drivers. Notably, when the June newsletter first raised the issue as a question, a number of angry calls were received from drivers who had misread it as the NSW TDA advocating compulsory seat belts. The debate at the AGM was strongly and unanimously against compulsory seat belts. Driver opinions are universally that seat belts must NOT be Compulsory!

The reasons why the taxi industry is, and was originally in 1974, exempted from compulsory seat belts is that it is a unique industry. An industry unfortunately with unique problems and unique safety problems. The following are some of the major reasons for the exemption from compulsory seat belts. They are strong, realistic and very practical reasons.

1. LOSS OF EARNINGS, LICENSES AND LIVELIHOODS - Compulsory seat belts make taxi drivers the easy targets for revenue raising. Petty infringements fines and loss of points due to the nature of taxi driving work will inevitably result. Seat belt
offenses carry severe license demerit point penalties that could rapidly strip taxi drivers of their vital driver's license. - There are innumerable situations where taxis are highly vulnerable to vexatious fines and loss of points from overzealous rangers and police. The reputation of police and rangers for revenue raising bookings are unfortunately widely recognized. (The RTA No Stopping rules in direct conflict with Taxi Regulations are a notorious and devastating case in point.) Under compulsory seatbelt legislation taxis will be easy revenue raising prey. The most obvious example of this threat to taxi drivers is the rigmarole of moving a taxi forward, one car space at a time, along a long line of ranked taxis. It is not uncommon for a taxi driver to spend a full hour edging forward to reach the head of a taxi rank. The taxi driver is literally a sitting target if he has not fastened his seatbelt each time that the taxi creeps forward. Similarly a taxi will often wait and then move when the passenger comes out at the next driveway at an apartment pickup. Or is often asked "thanks driver for loading that luggage, now please pick up my friend around the corner who also has a suitcase." Or advancing in the Airport waiting pens ; or traveling at slowly from the pens 300 Meters to the pickup rank. Presently the airport is targeted for easy taxi inspections ; will the airport also be invaded by police for easy seat belt bookings and revenue pickings ?

2. INCREASING VIOLENCE AND UNSAFE SEAT BELTS. - Compulsory taxi seat belts are unfortunately a major safety problem for taxi drivers. Taxi drivers are assaulted with disturbingly high frequency. Seat belts are an unsafe restraint if a taxi driver is assaulted in the taxi. Seat belts are a serious impediment if a driver needs to escape quickly from the taxi. And, dreadfully, the driver can be strangled by the very seat belt that should save his life.

Violence is on the increase as officially reported; incidents at and away from hotels and elsewhere have been increasing. The Sydney Morning Herald (page 1, 21/2/09) reported there were 13,086 violent, alcohol related, incidents recorded by police in the eleven months to July 2008. Taxi drivers are expected (and indeed exhorted) to provide services to the patrons of hotels and expose themselves to this potential violence. And taxi /hotel incidents do occur very frequently, both at hotels and on the journeys away from the hotels. Taxi drivers know these risks; it is a major reason why unfortunately increasing numbers feel compelled to drive with their vacant lights off. - The incidence of alcohol related violence for just 11 months is more than 33 times the number of traffic fatalities. Considering that not all alcohol related incidents are reported to police but that all road fatalities are, then it is abundantly clear that taxi drivers have far more to be concerned about than the comparatively rare event of a serious traffic accident. - The decisions that taxi drivers have to make when carrying drunk customers include whether or not no `gamble' on wearing the drivers' seat belts. That critical decision must be left to the drivers, literally in the hot seat. ONLY the taxi-driver can make that judgment depending on the circumstances.

Taxi drivers are neither foolhardy nor reckless. They are all imbued with survival strategies, not death wishes. And the taxi driver must be able to legally make that critical seat belt judgment.

3. TAXI DRIVER PRACTICES - Given that taxi drivers already consistently wear their belts when driving their own, private, cars it is clear that their choices to not wear belts in taxis are directly attributable to the unique aspects of taxi driving. Usually for many very good reasons, including the situations above. - Many taxi drivers do in fact buckle up when they feel that circumstances warrant it and when they are "on the road". To illustrate this, many passengers are surprised to learn that taxi drivers need not wear their seat belts; presumably because the passengers usually see their taxi drivers wearing their belts. - If such practices need improvement, then, as stated above, education and reminders are the way to go.

- The present laws have worked well since 1974. The laws have been effective for taxis for 35 years! For what overriding reasons should they be changed now?
- The Madden Report, it must be clearly noted, did NOT recommend to make seat belts compulsory for taxi drivers! At the very end of its last Chapter titled "Long Term Work" it carried only a small mention of seat belts. It stated "It was clear to the Taskforce that this issue merited further investigations. 11.3 Recommendations: 22. Government to review the current exemption for taxi drivers in NSW from wearing seat belts under Schedule 1 of the Road Transport." The report carried no supporting statistics of any kind. Obviously gathering substantiating data and evidence is the primary and first intention of the Madden Report. - The Minister's 19February 2009 letter refers to further "… implementation of the remainder of the recommendations … (of the Madden Report) " and then details these. However, very significantly, it makes NO mention whatsoever of Compulsory seat belts!
- The question then clearly arises, at whose initiative is the present review of seat belts legislation and what is its motivation? Undoubtedly, compulsory seat belts for taxi drivers would be a revenue raising bonanza in fines, as per above. But these are not valid arguments for change. There are some 22,000 taxi drivers in NSW of whom 17,000 drive in Sydney. This is a tiny percentage of the NSW seat belt population for whom to change present legislation. And compared also to the many more bus drivers in NSW who are exempt. - NSW last year celebrated its lowest road toll since the Second World War (only 395). The accident rate for taxis has always been relatively low and there is scant evidence that seat belts for taxi drivers would have made any significant difference to the NSW road toll (as compared to the very high incidence of assaults on taxi drivers!).

The Minister's 19 February 2009 letter refers to "Improved data gathering and monitoring of taxi related crime … ". The NSW TDA fully supports the Minister's call in this regard. There are no known Police statistics kept for taxi accidents, crimes or incidents. There are currently NO statistics on the percentage of taxi drivers currently not wearing seat belts but it can be easily verified that many in fact DO routinely wear their belts. Legislative changes to seat belts for taxi drivers must be resolved by reference to facts and data, not unfounded assumptions. Accident statistics for taxis and violence incident stats must be produced for any change ; and compared to the known increases in Police statistics on public violence!

For these long standing laws to change, the RTA and authorities must PROVE beyond doubt that circumstances have changed to such a degree as to warrant changing legislation that has worked well for 35 years.

5. Why Taxi Drivers?

- Neither train nor bus drivers nor taxi drivers are obliged to wear seat belts. To make changed regulations just for taxi drivers is inconsistent with the Government's approach to other forms of public transport. - There are many more bus drivers than taxi drivers. Given that taxi drivers are greatly more vulnerable to assault and other incidents and problems, and greatly more vulnerable to predatory petty fines and license point losses, why consider changing the rules for taxi drivers? It would appear to many that a move to add the risk of even more penalties and safety problems to the role of taxi drivers is a form of intimidation and unfair singling out of a group. - Will review of taxi driver seat belts lead to changes of the laws for bus drivers too?

- Any initiative for changing the laws for taxi drivers does NOT come from the taxi industry.
- (The opinion of one taxi driver - Mr Ross Nelson - in written submission supporting Compulsory seat belts, is a lone voice in the wilderness. Mr Nelson is not a member of any driver association and does not represent any drivers.)

- The taxi industry is represented by the NSW TDA and the Taxi Council Ltd and the TWU(NSW Branch). - The views of the NSWTDA directly reflect the very strong
views of the 22,000 drivers of NSW. They are set out above.
- The Taxi Council does not represent drivers and it may not be in attendance today. But it draws its funds from driver earnings via compulsory levies from the taxi Networks. The NSW TDA Committee members have contacted the senior levels of several Networks which, as far as gathered, are all set against Compulsory seat belts, primarily on the grounds of Safety! The Taxi Council would therefore be expected to reflect the Networks views that it is completely against Compulsory seat belts. And as has been the Taxi Council's public position going back at least 6 years. - In a word, the views of the taxi industry are totally and strongly against Compulsory seat belts!

Finally, it is necessary to stress the strength of feeling of drivers about compulsory seat belts. The proposed No Desto issue was defeated by widespread demonstrative driver action. The recent proposal to cancel the return Harbor Crossing toll faced the prospect of strong driver resistance. These issues pale in comparison with drivers' feelings about compulsory seat belts. The taxi drivers' resolve to fight this further restriction on their livelihoods and safety ought not to be underestimated.

In summary, it is submitted that the existing legislation exempting taxi drivers from compulsory seat belts is effective and appropriate. If anything the conditions justifying the exemptions of taxis have grown far worse since 1974. Compulsory seat belts in the taxi industry is a punitive approach. It is an approach open to petty revenue raising with devastating effects on the earnings and licenses and livelihoods, and the supply, of taxi drivers.

It is an approach that is frequently unsafe for taxi drivers! Vitally, the exemptions are critically important to the safety and protection of taxi drivers! It is an approach that flies in the face of all known experience for the last 35 years of the taxi industry!

The present legislation should be retained unchanged.


1 comment:

David said...

Taxi drivers face the high risk compare to any one else driving on road, so solving the some of their problems which occurs by seat belt not only help the taxi drivers also help the regular car owners.

Drivers Ed Nevada