Sliding safety standards don’t work in taxis

Recent media coverage has shone a light on the story about the mother of a young infant who was told by the driver of the taxi she had just boarded along with her husband, who uses a wheelchair, that it would take too much time to buckle the baby into the car seat. He advised her to just hold on to the infant instead.

In this case, the driver had taken the time to safely secure her husband’s wheelchair. But hearing this news story reminds me of the ongoing problems wheelchair users face when they are not properly secured in taxis. It leads to, at minimum, a handful of fatalities in North America every year. I, in fact, suffered a broken ankle a few years ago as a result of this very serious problem.

Many years ago, a local taxi company used Checker cabs, in which wheelchairs rode sideways just in front of the rear seat.

Many years ago, a local taxi company used Checker cabs, in which wheelchairs rode sideways just in front of the rear seat.

It may not be readily apparent to the casual observer but place an object in a moving vehicle, don’t secure it and change your speed or direction, and the object will move about in your vehicle. Bottom line — put a wheelchair in a taxi without securing one strap on each corner and the wheelchair will collide with the interior every time the cab changes speed or direction, or comes to a stop for any reason (stop sign, red light or, worse, a sudden, unexpected event).

Many years ago, a local taxi company used Checker cabs, the well-known vehicles made in the U.S. in which wheelchairs rode sideways just in front of the rear seat. I remember one day riding in one of these cabs when it turned left. Much to my horror, the rear right door swung open.

Luckily, I was firmly secured and there were no negative consequences. However, a few weeks later, while riding in the same type of taxi, I suddenly realized that the driver had failed to secure either of the two front straps.

The cab turned left, not particularly fast, but the change in direction was more than sufficient to cause my wheelchair to tip backwards and “do a wheelie” so that my chair landed against the rear right door. I would not be telling you this story today if that back door had swung open like the earlier one did.

It was in a third taxi incident that I broke my ankle. In that case, the two straps to secure my chair had been attached, but not properly. When the vehicle came to a slow stop at the first red light, the force was enough to cause my chair to jam against the front seat, breaking my ankle.

I am not criticizing taxi drivers in recounting these tales. They work very hard — the average cab driver works a 12-hour shift. At the same time, they’re also very poorly paid, many of them earning less than minimum wage since they have no protection under the Labour Standards Act, as they are specifically exempted from this piece of legislation governing minimum pay and hours of work.

What I am critical of, though, is the taxi industry for not making certain that all cab operators are provided with proper training and compensation for the extra time involved in taking safety precautions such as securing wheelchairs and infants in car seats.

We also learned from this story that ICBC states that for safety reasons children must be restrained in a moving vehicle, as is stipulated in the Motor Vehicle Act. But, to our great surprise, Vancouver Police states that taxis are exempt from these rules.

Given there is a requirement that wheelchairs need to be secured in taxis, amplified by the above ICBC and Motor Vehicle Act requirements regarding infants, it’s only logical that the exemption should be immediately rescinded. Anyone needing to be secured in a taxi, whether an infant in a car seat or anyone in a wheelchair, deserves equal safety treatment and cab drivers deserve the time and resources to carry it out.

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