Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
The headlines read:
– Hoboken man is arrested after allegedly beating driver, taking limousine after suspect’s offer of McDonalds was declined, 12/22/2010, The [Newark] Star Ledger
– Limo Driver in Hoboken assaulted by cabbie after letting pedestrian cross street, 1/24/2013, Hoboken Now
– Naomi Campbell attacks limo driver and makes a run for it, 3/3/2010, Today’s News NJ
– Man accused with attacking limo driver in Westwood, 11/10/2010, NorthJersey.com
– Man held in attack on limo driver, 8/04/1989, Philly.com
– ‘Jersey Shore’ bad-girl Angelina Pivarnick attacks limo driver, 10/9/2010, Examiner.com
– New Jersey Man Being Sentenced for Rape Assault on Limo Driver 6/25/2008, The [Newark] Star Ledger
– Jayson Williams gets 5 years for covering up Limo Driver Shooting 2/23/2010, DNA info.com
– New Jersey Limousine Driver Attacked by passengers, 2/18/2011, www.carsforstars.com
– Limo Driver alleges actor’s son attacked him, 11/17/1999, Highbeam.com
And those are limousine-related headlines just from New Jersey. The aggression against chauffeurs and drivers appears to be getting bolder and more frequent.
We read a lot about protecting the riding public. Transportation companies work hard to ensure their safety. From background to motor vehicle checks, operators are diligent in making sure that their clients are being driven safely. But rarely do we read about steps and initiatives to protect chauffeurs and drivers.
Given so many headlines, which took just minutes to find, this issue is real for the limousine industry and mostly unaddressed.
Lack of Training
In an informal poll, limousine operators were asked if protecting the chauffeur and ensuring his safety are included in their training. Only two out of 50 companies responded yes. As an industry, we are more concerned with how we treat clients and run vehicles than about the overall safety of the chauffeurs. Not all cases are alike. A percentage of the headlines above involved a driver who did or said something offensive or provocative to the passenger, proving that etiquette training goes with safety training. However, it’s not every day that we have Naomi Campbell, Angelina Pivarnick, or Michael Douglas’ son in the car. But we do have a daily chance of getting the angry McDonald’s dude.
The issue seems to be more blatant in the taxi industry where drivers pick-up strangers off the street and get paid mostly in cash. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) addressed the issue of homicides for taxi drivers in its white paper entitled, “Preventing violence against taxi and for-hire drivers” (source: http://www.osha.gov/Publications/taxi-driver-violence-factsheet.pdf). OSHA states that taxi drivers are 20 times more likely to get murdered on the job than any other worker. That statistic is staggering.
Taxi drivers are somewhat different from luxury limo chauffeurs with prearranged clients — but only somewhat. According to OSHA, taxi drivers take cash which makes them targets for robberies. This too can be true of the limousine industry, but most operators deal in credit card or billing for transactions. OSHA states that taxi drivers often work alone and in isolated areas. While somewhat true for chauffeurs, they more often drop off clients and stage while they attend events, dinners or meetings. Staging areas can be unfamiliar to chauffeurs. Like taxi drivers, chauffeurs also work at night. But taxi drivers are more likely than chauffeurs to operate in high crime areas. OSHA also notes that taxis deal with people under the influence of alcohol, which operators can relate to. In sum, although statistics are not available for for-hire services and chauffeurs, and likely not as high as for cab drivers, the risk of assault, theft and violence is real and frequent enough to warrant precautions.
How do you minimize the risk? You first may say, “Move your operation out of New Jersey.” Most of the headlines do originate in Northern New Jersey because of the population density, proximity to New York City, and high concentration of ground transportation services for so many people and visitors. But all companies are at risk regardless of location.
OSHA’s recommendations to reduce the risk are more suited for the taxi industry. It suggests a bullet proof barrier between driver and passenger — an obvious non-starter for chauffeured transportation. It suggests security cameras to record behavior in the vehicle, but the deterrence factor is debatable. Cameras work best after the crime to identify the suspect. Another suggestion is silent alarms and vehicle tracking devices such as GPS, which allow drivers in distress to be located. The technology, while helpful, is not optimal to address this problem.
Teach Chauffeurs Protection Measures
Threats can vary, coming from passengers or outside strangers. Each is handled differently. Both can be diffused just by handling them correctly. There is nothing uglier than a belligerent, drunk passenger. Chauffeurs should know the point where the client crosses the line. They need to know what level of tolerance you expect as a company owner and when the line is crossed. A chauffeur also needs to know when to use his judgment to say, “Enough.” How he handles the situation depends on training. For example, when does he call the police?
So what happens when your number one client’s vice president is the belligerent drunk in the back of the car? Do you want the chauffeur putting him out and calling the police? It’s a fine line, with each situation unique, but have you educated the chauffeur to see the line? Have you taught them how to handle situations when a woman is making threats? Also, what if your chauffeur is a woman? Have you taught her how to protect herself from obnoxious male passengers?
Self protection and safety training does not suggest that your chauffeurs should be armed or carry weapons. It does suggest that they use common sense to protect themselves in threatening situations. In his book “The Gift of Fear,” Gavin de Becker explains that the threat of violence surrounds us every day. He discusses how to spot signs of danger before it’s too late. Becker calls these pre-incident indicators or PINS. He says that the human intuition is often put aside because it is believed to be emotional, unreasonable, or inexplicable. Below are four steps to hone chauffeur intuitions.
1. Avoidance: The best defense is to focus on avoiding a crime. Teach your chauffeurs to make good decisions. Don’t go into bad neighborhoods. If the client wants to be taken to a place that is shady, make sure the chauffeur contacts dispatch and the dispatch is trained on the protocol. If the client is behaving erratically, don’t ignore it.
2. Awareness: Teach your chauffeurs to spot trouble and how to avoid being caught in a bad situation. Reading body language of the people around you is not an innate skill. But learning how to read body language could determine whether a chauffeur becomes a crime victim. Also, when driving in bad areas, teach your chauffeurs to look around when approaching stops, intersections and highway entrances. Leave enough space when stopped behind another vehicle at an intersection. If the chauffeur leaves the vehicle, such as to get coffee or use the restroom, make sure he knows not to leave the engine on with the doors unlocked. This is obvious, but operators who have had cars stolen from self-service gas station convenience stores will attest that they should have warned the chauffeur not to do it.
3. Understand how crime victims are selected: Chauffeurs should be constantly aware. Be invisible to the client until needed but always anticipate any needs. A chauffeur also should observe happeings in and around the vehicle. The client raising his voice, getting angry, or acting intoxicated needs to be monitored more closely than the client on the phone or computer. Watch your staging area and the people around it. For example, if your chauffeur is sitting in the parking lot of a stadium and the game ends in a bad way, look out for agitated or aggressive fans. Chauffeurs also sit in front of areas that are potential terrorist targets: airports, train stations, terminals, office buildings, stadiums, etc. They need to know that you expect them to park or stage in well lit areas. Teach them not to park near dumpsters or between trucks that would limit visibility. This can be tough when you are trying to find parking for larger vehicles. Chauffeurs should know where they are going at all times. They should plan alternative routes for all destinations. Chauffeurs often say that they sleep while waiting for clients. From a safety standpoint, you have to weigh the options in each situation: A refreshed non-drowsy chauffeur versus one not vulnerable to trouble.
4. Discuss and practice: The best defense is to know what to do and stay aware of how often incidents can occur. Test your chauffeurs on how they would handle specific situations. Role playing is a great tool not widely used in the limousine industry. For example, what is your policy on helping strangers whose vehicles are broken down? This is often a ploy used for crimes. Do your chauffeurs know what you expect in the event of a carjacking or robbery? Have you told them it’s best to give up and not try to fight a would-be burglar or carjacker?
No one likes to be negative and harp on the bad. Prevention is the best medicine when protecting your driving employees. Just like you practice preventive maintenance on your cars, do the same with your staff. And if all else fails, then at least stay out of Hoboken.
Contributing writer Linda Jagiela is a limousine operator and a former limousine industry magazine publisher and editor.
Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
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