Good morning Commissioner/Chairman Daus and members of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. I am Julia De Martini Day, a Planner/Advocate with Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives' 8,000 dues paying members and 25,000 activist subscribers support our campaigns to promote bicycling, walking and public transit and make New York City's streets safe and livable. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you on this proposal.
I am here today to speak in support of the proposal to extend the ban against licensees using a telephone while operating a vehicle to include portable and hands-free electronic devices; and require violators to attend a mandatory driver education course emphasizing the dangers of distracted driving. In addition to improving driver attention, the TLC proposal will set a precedent for how other city and state agencies can revise laws to reduce crashes caused by distracted driving from mobile phone use.
We strongly support the proposal on the table today and urge you to enact it without delay.
Mounting national and international research shows cell phones -- handheld and hands-free -- distract drivers and increase crash risk. Some key facts:
- In 2007, distracted driving was the number one cause of vehicle crashes in New York State (the number one cause of fatalities was speeding). New York State Department of Motor Vehicles 2007 data on Accident Contributing Factors showed "Driver Inattention/Distraction" was the cause of 19% or 10,472 accidents. This was the cause of 47 fatalities and 7,961 personal injuries.
- A 2003 Harvard study estimates that eliminating the use of cell phones while driving would prevent 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries in the United States."
- A 2005 study by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported that a driver is four times more likely to get into an accident when talking on a wireless phone, whether handheld or hands-free. While hands-free phones eliminate physical distraction, cognitive distraction still remains.
- Driving while cell-phoning leads driver performance to be as poor as if they were legally drunk.
- In New York City, a majority of the people fatally injured by taxi/livery crashes are vulnerable users:
- 16 of the 29 persons fatally injured in taxi/livery crashes in 1999 were pedestrians, and one was a bicyclist.
This data shows that we must act to make our streets safer. A law strengthening the penalties for using a portable or hands-free device can do this. Previous studies of well-publicized laws restricting drivers' use of handheld cell phones show they have a strong affect on behavior, and reduce cell phone use. With publicity and enforcement, the same should prove true for the proposal we are discussing today.
The TLC has been a leader in taking steps to make taxi drivers and New York City streets safer. The agency was the first in the nation to prohibit cell phone use while driving in 1999. Other agencies soon followed suit and New York State banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving in 2001. In 2009, the law was extended to include a ban on texting while driving. Currently, 15 states have laws on the books that prohibit drivers from talking on a handheld cell phone while driving and 18 states ban texting while driving. The National Safety Council is calling for a nationwide ban on using cell phones and messaging devices while driving.
Today the TLC has an opportunity to continue to lead the way for safer streets and better driver behavior. On the local level, this proposal will help reduce driver distraction and improve passenger, cyclist, pedestrian and driver safety. On the state level, there is potential for this to influence New York State to pass more comprehensive laws for all drivers.
The 30,000 plus taxis and liveries in NYC provide an invaluable public service, and as an important part of the streetscape they set the pace for other drivers on the road. Licensees are professional drivers who individually spend over eight hours driving and collectively carry approximately 660,000 passengers a day. Their driving behavior is very important. Promoting driver safety will improve customer service and raise the public image of taxi and livery drivers.
We urge the TLC to pass this proposal without delay. It will immediately improve the safety of the 241 million passengers taxis carry annually and all New Yorkers walking, biking or driving on New York City streets.