DRIVE TIME: New NYC Distracted Driving Rules Include Compromises

LCT Staff
Posted on December 31, 2009

NEW YORK — The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission passed a sweeping measure that closely regulates the use of electronic devices, including cell phones, among chauffeurs and cab drivers in New York City limits.

Approved following a Dec. 17 public hearing, the rules reflected the concerns and input from several top industry associations, including the Luxury Base Operators Association, Limousine Associations of New Jersey, Limousine Association of New York, the Nassau-Suffolk Limousine Association, and the Black Car Assistance Corporation.

In the weeks leading up to the public hearing, representatives from these associations met with TLC Commissioner Matt Daus and his staff to come up with a set of rules that promote safety while preserving the need for chauffeurs to communicate with dispatch centers. The TLC proposal initially arose out of mounting outrage among city motorists and for-hire vehicle clients about too many cab drivers talking on cell phones while driving through the city, leading to accidents and close-calls.

When the measure first became public in October, it set off a chain-reaction furor among New York City chauffeured transportation companies concerned about the blanket ban on headset cell phones and BlueTooth technology. Under the approved measure, chauffeurs can communicate with dispatch through a mounted device on the dashboard. Most chauffeurs do not talk on cell phones or communicate during client runs while a vehicle is moving anyway, as such behavior is commonly considered in the industry to be poor customer service.

The measure allows chauffeurs to communicate at all times for emergency purposes, such as 911 calls. A chauffeur who witnesses an accident or major traffic blockage while driving, for example, can legally communicate with dispatch.

“I spoke to Matt Daus the night before, we signed off, and I made it clear we supported the regulations,” said Barry Lefkowitz, the executive director of the Limousine Associations of New Jersey, and a key negotiator with the TLC on behalf of the chauffeured transportation industry. “He dealt with us in good faith and provided us with the changes that made it palatable.”

Chauffeurs also can use electronic devices within the three-minute idling rules, Lefkowitz said. “Your vehicle could be idling and be in compliance.” Chauffeurs leaving/dropping off at hotels and airports should communicate briefly while the vehicle is stopped at curbside.

Lefkowitz stressed that the rules only apply to “TLC-Diamond” licensed vehicles, and not to operators based outside of New York City. According to the federal RIDE Act, the TLC cannot interfere with interstate trips by operators based elsewhere, who are not subject to the rules, Lefkowitz said.

“That was a big sigh of relief,” Lefkowitz said, “since it would help us get to communicate.” New Jersey law, for example, requires operators to have a piece of equipment that allows for immediate communication within a 100-mile radius of the vehicle, he said. The TLC measure allows for such reciprocity for New Jersey operators driving in and out of New York City.

The landmark TLC rules will help set a more positive precedent for other agencies and cities dealing with the need to balance safety with for-hire driver communication, Lefkowitz said.

Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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