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Industry Leaders Help Shape TLC's Distracted Driving Rule Changes
from the Black Car News on line

Industry Leaders Help Shape TLC's Distracted Driving Rule Changes
from the Black Car News on line

The New York City Taxicab & Limousine Commission (TLC) unanimously passed amendments to an existing "distracted driving" rule at its December 17 public hearing, dramatically tightening restrictions on the use of cell phones and electronic devices while TLC regulated drivers are on the road. Penalties for violations were also increased.

The amendments are scheduled to go into effect in late-January, 2010.

Acknowledging the dangers of driving while texting and/or talking on the phone, most leaders of the for-hire vehicle industry were supportive of the rule change - in light of the fact that the TLC agreed to allow the continued use of hands-free devices for dispatching purposes. The rule now says that the devices must be mounted, and can only be used in short bursts for dispatching.

According to a TLC notice, the Commission "amended provisions of Chapters 2,4, 6 and 9 of Title 35 of the Rules of the City of New York. The new version of the rule included the following changes:

* Hands-free and hand-held cell phones are prohibited for use while driving. Even wearing a Bluetooth in your ear is now a violation. The TLC expanded the definition of use to include immediate proximity to the driver's ear.

* All distractive portable or hands-free electronics (iPods, portable game systems, etc.) capable of voice and/or text communications are prohibited for use while driving.

* Violators receive a $200 fine and three penalty points each for their first and second violations. They must also attend a driver education course (approximate cost: $20-$30), which includes a horrific video showing what can happen as a result of distracted driving. On the second violation, you also get a 30-day suspension. A third violation within a 15-month period brings four points and revocation of your TLC license. That means: Three strikes and you're out. Previously, it was five strikes and you're out.

* The TLC's new regulations will count non-point-bearing cell phone violations issued by the New York Police Department toward their three strikes rule. This increases the TLC's enforcement of Distracted Driving Rules by 247-fold (150 TLC officers vs. 37,038 uniformed NYPD).

* There are exemptions for certain mounted, non-handheld, voice-activated, one-button devices that allow for expeditious dispatch-related communications.

* During a true, "provable" emergency, drivers can make emergency calls (i.e. 911).

In it's "Statement of Basis and Purpose," the TLC points out that it has been prohibiting drivers from using cell phones while driving for more than 10 years. In May 1999, the Commission was the first regulator in the country to ban hands-free cell phone use while driving. However: "Despite enforcement of those rules, cell phone use remains a significant problem in the for-hire transportation industries. Moreover, the proliferation of both portable electronic devices and hands-free electronic devices in recent years demands that the Commission expand the prohibition beyond cell phones to other electronic devices.

One recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute demonstrated that texting while driving increases a driver's collision risk 23-fold. "In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as a study published by University of Utah psychologists, found that hands-free use of cell phones was no safer than handheld use. The studies concluded that the distracting effects of phone conversation are not mitigated by the use of hands-free devices."

After publishing the rule amendments and prior to the December public hearing, the TLC concluded a number of meetings with leaders from various industry groups representing Taxicab, Livery, Black Car and Limousine businesses. Based on those meetings, the Commission concluded that: "Unlike the taxicab, paratransit and commuter van industries, the for-hire industries rely on in-vehicle communications to operate their businesses, and that the imposition on those industries of a requirement that the use of electronic devices must be deferred until the vehicle is standing or parked would substantially impair the operation of those businesses. Furthermore, staff research indicates that short, simple conversations regarding specific issues, such as vehicle dispatch, do not adversely affect the driver's ability to maintain road position (Briem & Hedman, Behavioral Effects of Mobile Phone Use During Simulated Driving, 1995; Rakauskas, Gugerty & Ward, Effects of a Naturalistic Cell Phone Conversations on Driving Performance, 2004). Other studies have shown that listening to verbal material, by itself, does not interfere with a driver's safe operation of the vehicle (Strayer & Johnston, Dual-Task Studies of Simulated Driving and Conversing on a Cellular Telephone, 2001). The scientific literature distinguishes such communications from conversations of greater duration and intensity, which dangerously distract drivers and slow their reaction times, whether the conversation is conducted by handheld or hands-free device.

"Based on a review of the scientific literature and the unique business needs of the for-hire vehicle industries, the proposed rule was revised to allow for-hire vehicle drivers to engage in short, solely business-related communications in connection with a dispatch from a base, by means of two-way radios, or by means of a device that is mounted in a fixed position and utilizes one-touch pre-programmed buttons or voice communications.

"In addition, in response to a large number of comments regarding the requirement that the engine must be turned off in order to use a portable or electronic device, Commission staff concluded that it is sufficient that the vehicle be lawfully parked or standing. (Of course, laws limiting vehicle idling still apply.) Staff also responded to comments regarding the requirement that a GPS device may only be used if the device does not use video or image functions; the rule now permits GPS devices which use voice functions so long as the device is not being used as a cell phone or other portable or hands-free electronic device. These changes in the rule apply to all industries."

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