In 2006, a group of transportation research consultants, known collectively as Schaller Consulting, released the “New York City Taxicab Fact Book.” You can find a copy here. Their study reviewed nearly every possible aspect of the city’s taxi industry, from driver demographics and finances to the average quality of a cab ride.
How Common Are Taxi Accidents?
But the most groundbreaking finding could be summed up in one sentence: you’re less likely to be involved in a cab accident than one that only involves passenger vehicles. But there was a catch.
While the crash rate for New York’s taxis was relatively low, the rate of personal injury in those crashes was astoundingly high. Out of 4,270 total taxi accidents reported in 1999, 3,041 of them, or 71%, resulted in injury to passengers. 13% caused severe injuries to pedestrians and 7% harmed bicyclists.
Livery vehicles, those black town cars for hire, are even more dangerous. In 1999 alone, “liveries were involved in 13,134 crashes,” and 10,290 of those collisions, 60%, resulted in injury.
Why Do Taxi Cabs Cause More Injuries?
Schaller explained their findings by referring to two factors largely unique to taxi cabs and their passengers:
- Cab passengers are far less likely to wear seat belts. Schaller found that only 17% of injured rear-seat passengers were wearing belts at the time of an accident, compared to almost 80% of people in passenger vehicles. Notably, the study reports that “even when wearing wearing restraints, taxi passengers experience high injury rates.”
- Almost all medallion cabs in New York feature a hard, plastic partition that separates the rear from the front. Passengers forced to strike this barrier by the impact of a crash are far more likely to suffer serious head trauma than others.
For perspective, you’re three times as likely to suffer “Class A or B” injuries, a category including fractures, concussions, internal bleeding, burns, and contusions, in a taxi than a passenger vehicle.
Where Do Taxi Accidents Happen?
New York is home to more than 13,000 registered yellow cabs, and they disproportionately serve passengers being picked up in Manhattan. Crashes reflect this fact: 79% of all reported taxi collisions occurred in the economic center of New York City.
Has Anything Changed Since 1996?
It would be nice to know whether or not recent policy changes have impacted taxi driver and passenger safety. Unfortunately, New York City’s 2014 Taxicab Fact Book, the first comprehensive look at the taxi industry since Schaller’s report in 1996, is less than comprehensive. While the report has been updated with graphics and graphs, it fails to include any data on accidents, injuries, or their causes.
In fact, the only safety-related information involves passenger seat belt usage, which has increased, but remains incredibly low at around 38%.
If New York’s taxi crash rates had fallen over the last decade, one could reasonably expect that those numbers would be heralded as a great success. Can we then assume that taxi accidents have increased? Without public reporting, there’s no way to know. The Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) doesn’t seem committed to transparency.
Reviewing The Numbers: Taxi Cab Accident Statistics From 2011 to 2014
The city’s new NYC Open Data platform, which compiles information from every municipal agency, offers an alternative. Using publicly-available data from the New York Police Department, we’ve been able to piece together a picture of current taxi crashes in NYC:
After reviewing the data, available here, the first thing that becomes clear is how consistent the numbers are from month to month. In August of 2011, the first month that we have statistics for, New York City saw 16,784 vehicle collisions. 1,351 of these accidents involved taxi cabs or livery vehicles, a flat 8.00%. In September of that year, 8.24% involved cabs, and in October, 8.75%.
Jump to exemplary months in 2013, like June and November, and the percentage of all accidents that involve taxis hovers between 9.64% and 10.25%. Overall, from August 2011 to September 2014, there is an upward trend in both total accidents and taxi accidents, but variation exists throughout the year and the increases are far from staggering.
Here are some highlights from our analysis:
2012 saw a total of 198,370 reported traffic accidents, and 19,258 involved cabs or liveries. That’s 9.71%, if you’re keeping track.
2013 saw a total of 203,390 reported traffic accidents, and 20,634 involved cabs or liveries. Which makes 10.15%.
On average, taxis alone (excluding livery vehicles) were involved in:
- 1,242 collisions every month in 2012
- 1,379 collisions every month in 2013
- 1,391 every month in 2014.
Perhaps most significant is the difference between these numbers and those reported in Schaller’s 2006 Fact Book. In 1999, there were only 4,270 taxi accidents the entire year. In 2012 and 2013, that number had increased five times, while the number of yellow cabs on the street had only risen by 658.