NEW YORK CITY - Cabbies who weave in and out of traffic, slam on their brakes or sideswipe bicyclists better think twice - Big Brother will soon be watching.
The city plans to mount digital cameras on a handful of taxis to see if they help detect reckless driving.
When there's an accident, the cameras would provide valuable information about who is to blame.
"This technology is being used effectively throughout the for-hire vehicle industry, and it is saving them considerable amounts of money on their insurance costs," Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Matthew Daus told the Daily News.
"More importantly, we believe this pilot program has very real potential to help us deter accidents and save lives."
One company has signed up to put the digital system in as many as 20 yellow taxis.
The country's largest luxury car chauffeur company has already installed a surveillance system called DriveCam throughout its high-priced fleet of Mercedes Benzes, Rolls-Royces and other top-flight cars.
"It's an amazing piece of technology," said David Seelinger, owner of EmpireCLS Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation. "It's been a tremendous benefit to us financially."
Annual payout costs for accidents have dropped more than $500,000 as the cameras often prove Empire's drivers weren't to blame, Seelinger said.
The company also has used the technology to identify drivers who needed more training, Seelinger said.
Some yellow cabs and livery cars have cameras pointed toward the interior to deter crime or give police clues for investigations.
Cameras on the outside of cabs is something new - and struck the wrong chord with Bhairavi Desai, president of the Taxi Worker's Alliance, a drivers' advocacy group.
"I thought in America the law was you're innocent until proven guilty," Desai said. "This would absolutely be an invasion of privacy. It's intrusive."
David Pollack, director of the Committee for Taxi Safety, said any program should be voluntary because owners could have trouble affording the cameras. Still, he believed the technology could lead to lower insurance costs.
There were 9,736 accidents involving a yellow cab or livery car in the city in 2006, the latest year available, the state Department of Motor Vehicles said. That's about 2,400 fewer than in 2003.
The TLC couldn't say when the pilot program would begin or how many cabs would be involved.
Source: New York Daily News