Chatty Cabbies Won't Put Down Cells, Despite Law

Drivers on cell phones 4x as likely to cause crash, research shows

Hold the phone. Better yet, put it down.

Cabbies have been banned from using cell phones – even hands-free sets – while driving for more than a decade, but that hasn't stopped hacks from breaking the law, according to a report.

Considering drivers who talk on cell phones are four times as likely to cause an accident as those who aren't, one would think the city would be stepping up to enforce the regulations already in place. But it's not so easy to catch cabbies in the act.

Much of the burden to report garrulous taxi drivers falls on their passengers – and passengers may be too nervous or feel like it won't make a difference to make the call.

Cops issued a mere 232 tickets to chatty cabbies in the first half of this year – just one summons for every 517,241 cab rides in that time, based on estimated ridership, according to The New York Times. Nearly twice as many summonses were issued during the same time period last year.

The commissioner of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, which manages the industry, says the year-over-year decline in summonses shows the problem isn't as bad as it used to be, but acknowledged fighting phone use by cabbies is "a constant battle," reports the Times.

For many New Yorkers, seeing cabbies on cell phones while driving is the norm – as common an offense as jaywalking. That may be another reason incidents go unreported.

The Times sent a reporter out recently to see just how systemic the problem has become. On 20 taxi rides taken across Manhattan at different times, the reporter found that a third of drivers talked on their cells at some point during the ride. A few also sent text messages. Asked to cease and desist, most drivers did.

One driver, however, pulled over and told the passenger to get out of his car – citing an engine stall or something -- after he was asked to stop blathering on his cell phone, reports the Times.  

The rules regarding cell-phone use while driving in New York are among the most stringent in the country. While some locales ban cell phones, they permit the use of hands-free devices behind the wheel – and other places, like Miami and Denver, allow any and all drivers to use cell phones whenever they please.

Cabbies who get caught talking on their cell phones face a $200 fine – but it's rare that they get caught in the act, according to the Times. Less than 800 tickets were issued to cabbies in 2007. A high of 2,285 summonses were issued in 2004.

What's wrong with hands-free devices? Research indicates they're just as dangerous. It's not just the use of hands that's the problem; it's the distraction of conversation.

"They’re so absorbed in their phone call — even if they have the earplug in their ear,” Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University, told the Times. “It’s not only my own safety, it’s my children’s safety."

Some cabbies say they only use their phones in cases of emergency. Others say they're OK using cells because they're more experienced drivers than you're average Joe.

When it comes to cutting conversations short, however, passengers may be more effective than the city.

"When I talk all the time, the passengers get angry," Bronx cabbie Mohammad Forazi told the Times. "They don't give tips."

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