What Everyone Can Learn from Professional Drivers - Watch Your Back: How to Avoid the Most Dangerous Moments in Daily Life (2016)

Watch Your Back: How to Avoid the Most Dangerous Moments in Daily Life (2016)

Chapter 4 What Everyone Can Learn from Professional Drivers

Outside of just a few big cities with large networks of public transportation, driving a car in America is a necessity. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that according to the Federal Highway Administration there are more than 214 million drivers currently licensed in the United States alone.1 Our love affair with cars (and trucks) is just part of being an American, and for many young people driving represents not only independence but also a coming of age. Driving professionally may or may not be considered skilled labor because it’s taking advantage of something most of us already do. But for many American citizens it is their first adult job that earns enough to start a family or put themselves through college.

It’s no secret that many immigrants begin their lives in America by driving a taxicab. A good driver with minimal education can earn money quickly with little or no investment. Yet, in many cultures around the world, segments of the population, specifically women, are not permitted to drive nor are they allowed to work. In America, the freedom to be licensed to drive opens up new possibilities for making a living.

Commuting to work, school, or simply running errands can make you feel like driving is a fulltime job but it is the professional driver that logs many, many, more miles transporting people and valuable goods both locally and border to border. In most cases their vehicles are branded with signs that can just as easily draw thieves as attract new customers. That being said, a study of lessons learned by cabbies should yield valuable insights into personal defense for everyone that drives.

For the driver of a private, unmarked vehicle, there are places where you go that can be just as dangerous as driving a vehicle with signage. Anytime you visit a bank or use a drive-up ATM, your risk of being the victim of a crime skyrockets. Expensive commodities such as computers and flat screen TVs are difficult to hide but easy to sell if they are stolen. In either case, all a criminal has to do is set up in front of a bank or computer store and follow the victim when they leave. If your next stop is someplace like the dry cleaners, the thieves can simply clean out your car while you are inside picking up your clothes. The underworld community has even come up with a name for this method of crime. It’s called “Jugging.” Another bad end result to a shopping trip can be a driveway robbery in which you’re followed home and attacked in your driveway or garage while unloading.

Cars can be easily broken into when left unattended, but the real danger is when the crime involves personal contact and not just theft, such as in the case of a carjacking, the preferred method for many car thieves because with the driver present and the engine running there is no need to damage the car to gain entry and drive off. The risk of confronting the driver and/or passengers is often outweighed by the reward of a new automobile fully intact, especially when you take into account the advantage of surprise and how difficult it is to mount a defense from the confines of the interior of an automobile. In this regard, both professional drivers and private drivers face similar risks.

Unfortunately, the professional driver operates in a world where risk versus reward is much more heavily loaded at both ends of the equation. The goods an over-the-road (OTR) freight driver carries up the reward. The local delivery driver makes many stops, often parking the vehicle where it is subject to theft. Pizza delivery personnel are walking cash registers approaching complete strangers while separated from their vehicle. The taxi cab driver knows little or nothing about their passengers and taxi driver’s earnings mount up as the shift continues, boosting the reward for theft. The limousine driver may also be carrying cash and the image of opulence can be a signal that whoever is in the back seat is rich and replete with valuables. Before formulating a list of safety precautions for the private driver, let’s take a look at how each of these professional drivers operate and find out what preemptive behavioral responses have been developed by the professionals.

Taxi Cabs, Limousines, and Private Hire Transport

The yellow cab taxi is the most well known image of personal transport, but not all taxis are painted yellow. Yellow is the traditional color because it stands out in traffic, making the cabs easily seen by anyone who needs to hire them. The fact that the taxi wants to be noticed stands out not only in traffic but also within the transport industry itself. While the taxi cab can be hired over the telephone or pick up fares (passenger or passengers) by waiting on line at an airport, bus station, hotel, or other point of heavy demand, the most traditional way a taxi driver makes his living is by stopping for anyone that hails them from the curb. The risk is obvious.


Are you safer in a taxi? The traditional yellow taxi cab is a highly regulated industry charging standardized rates for distance and waiting time that do not vary as if their services were a commodity rising and falling with market demands. This begins with a properly-calibrated meter checked and maintained by the fleets and inspected by the licensing bureau. Unlike some independent transport entities, taxi drivers are fingerprinted and go through a thorough background check by local police or taxi and limousine commission.

The primary job of all personal transport drivers is to simply pick up passengers from one location and deliver them to another. But from the moment a shift begins to the time it ends, driving a taxicab is a completely unique experience. First, let’s consider the different ways in which the business is structured. The cabs themselves are licensed by the city and/or state to perform livery service within specific guidelines. A “medallion” is physically affixed to the vehicle itself, usually on the hood. A metering device inspected and sealed is attached to the cab to register distance driven and time elapsed once activated for service. A taxi may at times be hired for a flat rate but the meter is the primary source of charges per trip. A light on the roof of the cab indicates when the cab is off duty, when the meter is running with a passenger in charge, and when the cab is available for hire. When the cab is available for hire, the driver cannot by rule refuse a fare unless the person or persons is under the influence or demonstrably violent. There are exceptions regarding the distance or radius in which a cab can pick up fares, but in general the driver must take them wherever they request. Most of the rides are relatively short because the taxi is a conveyance of convenience above all else. In my two-year career as a yellow cab driver I never left the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx, yet I racked up over 3,000 miles of driving per year.

The requirements for cab drivers are relatively few but specific licensing does include a fingerprint and background check. There is also a written test based primarily on traffic law and knowledge of the city. Driving a cab may be risky but it is a way to make money quickly with few educational requirements. But making money as a cab driver is not as simple as it sounds, beginning with how your paycheck is accounted. Traditionally, a driver would work for a cab company that maintains a fleet of taxis. Like the popular television show Taxi that ran from 1978 into the next decade, the drivers showed up and were assigned a cab to drive for the designated shift. There was a twelve-hour day shift and twelve-hour night shift with the start time assigned by the fleet or cab owner. The driver then was paid a percentage of the meter charges during the shift plus cash tips. The percentage of the meter charges paid to the driver increased with tenure. This was the condition of the taxi industry I personally experienced during my first tenure behind the wheel in the 1970s.

When I returned to taxi driving a decade later, I didn’t stay long because the business had changed dramatically. I had heard tales of drivers making much more money by leasing the cabs per shift instead of working for a fleet and sharing the meter. I soon found out that leasing per shift instead of splitting the meter may have increased the maximum amount a driver could take in but it also made the drivers more desperate. This dramatically changed conditions on the road. Fees for driving the day shift could be more than $100 and double that for a night shift ride. This was reflected in a November 2011 Forbes.com article titled “How Taxi Companies Rip Off Their Drivers” by Marc Weber Tobias.2 Hourly wages commonly worked out to as little as eight dollars or less. But Tobias points out another hazard, collecting wages for fares paid by credit cards. In my time of experience with leasing it was an all cash business. Drivers in the twenty-first century might have to wait weeks for their shares from credit card purchases but still pay every day for their shifts. The immediate effect in the opinion of my peers was that the need to recoup and profit encouraged more aggressive driving. The one aspect of our safety that we had complete control over, our own behavior behind the wheel, was being eroded by acts of desperation.

In Chapter 2, we saw that being desperate can negatively affect judgment. In addition, competition with other drivers was more likely to lead to violence. It wasn’t uncommon for drivers to cut each other off to reach passengers waiting at the curb, leading to fender benders. In a city like New York where sidewalks are filled with pedestrians overflowing into the streets, a car out of control could prove deadly. Fights between drivers were beginning to be a problem, too.

Might a cabbie desperate to recoup his lease payment then take a fare they might ordinarily avoid? We already pointed out that any time the available light is lit the driver cannot refuse a fare. But the driver does have the right to go off duty and may do so immediately upon delivering a passenger to their destination. For example, most taxi drivers will not take a fare to a part of a given city that is well known to have a high crime rate. This does not mean that everyone who lives there is a criminal. Nor does it mean that residents of higher crime neighborhoods do not need or desire cab service. In fact, it could be seen as just the opposite. Yet it may be difficult for a passenger bound for rundown or crime-ridden streets to ask a cabbie straight out to take them far from downtown and share in the predicament in which they live.

For example, after dropping a fare in lower Manhattan I was hailed by an older woman who looked like she’d been working a double shift at one of the stifling little factories dug in between the tenements not far from the Brooklyn Bridge. I asked her where she was going and the lady answered cautiously in the way an immigrant who could barely speak English would respond. Seated in the cab I could see she was probably about sixty years old, overweight, and probably pretty tired. Clutching her black patent leather purse, she half nodded and half pointed with both hands on the purse mumbling, “Just over the bridge.” I flipped the flag down to start the meter and headed across into Brooklyn. With the bridge a few blocks behind us, I half turned and half looked into the rearview mirror asking, “Stop here?” She pointed again with her hands in front of her chest holding her purse as if they were the reigns of a horse-drawn carriage signaling “a little further.” We continued to ride deeper into Brooklyn.

To look at us both we were two people at different ends of the spectrum. She may have been an immigrant from Jamaica, very dark-skinned and much older than myself. I was of course white, male, only in my twenties, and reveled in looking like a hoodlum. My soft eyes might have given me away but driving a cab and living on the Lower East Side did require some sort of armor. I asked again and again; she responded each time by saying something like “further,” “more,” or just pointed. When we arrived at our destination some fifty minutes later, I realized that she did indeed speak English, but in my opinion was ashamed not of her language skills but of the neighborhood in which she lived. Actually, halfway into the trip I understood what was happening and wondered where we would end up. If she had asked to go to East New York, Brooklyn, right away most cabbies would not have done so. Along the way I reasoned that if she could live there, I could go there. Even if my cab did stick out like a neon sign saying “rob me please” of the eighty or so dollars in small bills I had pressed beneath my thigh against the driver’s seat. This was the same East New York, Brooklyn neighborhood policed by NYPD detective Derrick Parker, “NYPD’s First ‘Hip Hop’ Cop” in his book, Notorious C.O.P. A sign at his place of business, the 75th Precinct, was a satire of the slogan used by 1010 WINS News Radio, “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world.” The sign read, “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you a homicide.”3 In 2007, the Village Voice rated East New York, Brooklyn as the best place to get murdered, raped, or robbed.

My point is that a driver desperate to make up for an exorbitant lease fee might not have immediately turned off his available light upon delivering his or her passenger before being accosted. The prospect of driving so far back to Manhattan without the meter running might have tempted the desperate driver to take the very next fare no matter who they might be or where they were going. I turned on my off-duty light and, fascinated by the scene of people living amidst the devastation of burned-out buildings, vacant lots, gated and barricaded small shops, took a few turns through the neighborhood and got the hell out.

Changing your status light to off-duty immediately upon delivery of a passenger can be a lifesaver. Or, at least provide an excuse not to pick someone up that you do not want to take on. As such, here is a good example. A driver picks up a fare headed for a specific address on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan (New York City). He writes the address in his logbook and pulls out into traffic. The passenger is from out of town and has never been to this address before let alone the “Fashion District,” a stretch of blocks just below 42nd Street where Seventh Avenue is officially referred to as Fashion Avenue. The buildings are largely occupied by importers of clothing and others doing business in the textile industry. The streets are absolutely teeming with pedestrians crossing illegally, “jaywalking” at all angles. Workers pushing racks of clothing and large plastic bins filled with cloth are common sights. As the cab crosses 42nd Street headed south, the driver is looking carefully for the address above each doorway. Manhattan is a grid system of streets crossing at 90 degree angles with few exceptions. There are twenty streets or rather blocks to a mile and the driver is trying to find the address based on how the numbers correspond to each block. He finds the correct address, pulls over to the right hand side of the avenue, and stops his meter. The driver collects the fare in cash and the passenger gets out. As the passenger leaves, the driver writes the time of arrival in his logbook. He looks up from his writing and that’s when trouble begins.

There is a limousine parked in front of the building with a uniformed chauffeur standing beside it. Here is what the chauffeur sees. The cab approaches with the driver bending forward to get a better look at the building’s address. He stops and sits back, reaching towards the passenger to accept payment and make change. The passenger leaves and although the driver is double-parked and blocking traffic, he remains parked while writing something down. The light on his taxi indicates he is available and a wiry, rough-looking young man taps on the driver’s window. The young man tries to get into the passenger seat but the door is locked. It’s pretty obvious he wants to hire the cab but the driver does not want to take him. The argument escalates and as the driver goes to put the cab into gear the man jumps on the hood. The argument continues through the windshield. The man balls his fist and delivers a blow to the hood, actually leaving a bowl-shaped dent. The driver puts the cab in gear, accelerates and stops short, throwing the man off the hood. He then takes off again but runs down a pedestrian instead, hitting a man pushing a clothes rack. The clothes go into the street with the rack skittering in one direction and the pedestrian rolling and sliding towards the curb. He ends up lying prone in front of the parked limousine, badly injured. The young man who wanted to hire the cab disappears but an angry crowd gathers. The cab is surrounded and the chauffeur has to fend off attacks by members of the lynch mob who arrive late and assume based on the position of the victim that it was the limo that had run him down. Police and ambulance arrive with the taxi driver locked inside his cab with the windows up and the chauffeur fending off attacks and pinning a man to the hood of the limo in a hammerlock.

Several factors contributed to the debacle, not the least of which was the time period (the 1970s) and the way in which people hired taxicabs. Back then, almost all passengers were picked up from the street by catching the eye of the cabbie. Another problem for the cabbie was having to look for an exact address and not understanding the grid system of blocks and streets. By knowing the proper cross street, such as 38th Street and Seventh Avenue, the driver would have been less distracted. While the passenger did not in fact know the location of the address, the driver should have tried to get permission to drop the fare at the nearest corner or ask them to look above each doorway themselves to find the address. It’s better to overshoot the address than take your eyes off the road to find it. Switching his off-duty light on directly upon arrival at the destination would have given the driver an opportunity to evaluate his surroundings. At the very least the driver could have driven off as soon as the door closed and entered the time of delivery the next time he stopped. As for the limousine driver, it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Taxicab driving will always be a higher-risk job than the norm. The leasing of cabs per shift is still prevalent but communications technology has done much to change the business by making the dispatch team a much more important resource for the driver. For example, until cell phones replaced the pager and became commonplace, drivers either cruised the streets or waited in queue at taxi stands by a railroad terminal or at the airport. The driver rarely called dispatch unless there was a flat tire, an accident, or a mechanical breakdown. It’s still profitable to rely on being hailed street-side in big cities like New York or Chicago, but more fares are booked directly by cell phone or text message than ever before.


The in-cab camera has proven to be a huge boost to security for the driver. Beyond the obvious surety of visual proof, the camera can also function as an early warning system. If a prospective fare shows reluctance to enter the cab but engages the driver in prolonged conversation they may be trying to commit a robbery without running the risk of sitting in the cab and being identified.


The in-cab computer allows for the driver to respond quickly to calls without the exposure of cruising the streets. Once in the computer, requests for service are more likely to be recorded and kept on file and there’s a built-in GPS that can trace the whereabouts of the cab at any given time. Electronic payment removes the lure of ready cash.

Several attempts have been made to prevent crimes against taxi drivers. Two of the most recognizable are the addition of a safe that is accessible only to the cab owner or fleet cashier and the bullet-resistant partition. Another deterrent is the installation of a surveillance camera.

Installing a safe and displaying a decal such as “Driver only carries $X in change” or “Driver cannot access safe” will make potential criminals aware that the amount of funds available to them are limited. How effective is this strategy? A safe probably does reduce the probability of crime because criminals are usually looking for the easiest victim. However, the veracity of the decals might come into question since not every holdup man is going to take the driver’s word for it. Before the installation of safes, taxicab drivers used several methods of deception to minimize loss. Years ago, drivers generally divided up the take during each shift in either one of two strategies. They would hide large bills or a predetermined amount of money somewhere in the cab. Single dollar bills and fives were change money so they were kept in supply. A maximum of two or three twenty-dollar bills might be kept in different pockets. Or, the driver might keep a separate wallet beneath their leg. Some drivers liked having a cigar box next to them as a cash register. This made change convenient but served as a smoke screen. The idea was to divert attention to the cigar box. Another favorite ploy was the “chump roll,” a roll or wad of cash made up of mostly single dollar bills with a twenty-dollar bill or even a phony fifty on the outside. In the event of a holdup, the plan was to throw the chump roll out the window and drive off.

When we think of risk to taxicab drivers, pressure-cooker cities like the five boroughs of New York City come to mind. Oddly enough, one of the greater forces pushing for use of the partition came from a 1991 set of reports and recommendations by the Manitoba Taxicab Board. The Canadian province of Manitoba is centrally located directly above the borders of North Dakota and Minnesota. The governmental and cultural center of the province is the city of Winnipeg, serviced by a vibrant taxicab industry. As such, the Manitoba Taxicab Board was alarmed by violence against taxicab drivers that translated into some rather frightening statistics. Based on statistics published in the American Journal of Public Health in October, 1987, “the work related homicide rate for Winnipeg cab drivers (50 per 100,000) computed to about two-and-a-half times the rate for both cab drivers and policemen in California; the same as the rate for inmates in U.S. Federal prisons; and twenty-four times the rate for all male workers in Texas.”4

The installation of a bullet-resistant partition separating the driver from the rear is currently mandatory in New York City but its use has periodically been both in and out of favor with drivers and passengers alike. Passengers didn’t like it because it pretty much killed the conversation with the driver. (Talking sports and politics with a cab driver is considered part of the New York experience.) It also interfered with giving instructions to the driver and making payment. Often the partition was slid aside in frustration by the driver and left that way.

The history of safety partitions can be traced back to 1960 when, after a rash of fatal armed robberies of cab drivers, the NYPD gave cab owners permission to install clear partitions to deter holdups. In 1967, the city required bullet-resistant partitions in cabs driven at night. By 1971, all cabs were required to have partitions, and in that same year the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) was formed, relieving the police department from regulation. Current TLC regulation 67-10 (a) (1) requires the use of a partition that “isolates the driver from the rear seat passengers or all passengers of the vehicle.”5 This forbids carriage of passengers in the front seat. Regulation 67-10 (a) (2) states, “The purpose of the partition is to provide protection to the driver while ensuring passenger safety and enabling rear seat passengers to enjoy a clear and unobstructed view of the Taxicab Driver’s License, Rate Card, and front windshield.”6

The list of complaints about using a partition is long. Communication is stifled. The partitions themselves are unsightly, difficult to clean, and subject to vandalism such as graffiti both by writing and by scratching into the plastic. Riders don’t generally like them because they feel they’ve been put in a cage or riding in the back of a police car. The partition can also prove injurious in the case of a sudden stop. “Those partitions create a plastic surgeon’s dream,” said Jack S. Lusk, New York TLC chairman from 1988 to 1991. In the very same article published in 2005 on YellowCabNYCTaxi.com, Fidel F. Del Valle, who was the commission’s chairman from 1991 to 1995 countered by saying, “The attractiveness of robbing a cab is that it’s basically a piggy bank on wheels. You don’t want to make the opportunity for crime any easier than it is.”7

An exemption from the requirement to use a partition can be found in the New York TLC code Section 5, subsection 58-35 (b) (1), requiring the cab to be driven by the owner of the Medallion. What’s more interesting is an exemption commonly found across the nation. While some commissions still require the use of a partition for the night shift, the presence of an interior camera can in some precincts release the cab driver and/or cab owner from the requirement of having a safety partition. For anyone thinking of buying into the cab business with a fleet or even a single car, it is recommended to study the laws and regulations in the city in which you will be setting up shop. If you are considering being a driver, contact one or more fleets that are looking for drivers. They’ll be able to tell you what the physical requirements of each cab are and of course their cabs will be equipped as such. But questions remain about the variation in safety requirements and what equipment and conditions have the greatest effect on safety.

Results from a wide cross section of interviews with working cab drivers revealed that advancements in technology have had a more positive effect on driver safety than that of physical barriers. You can never discount street smarts but the almost-complete disappearance of cash payment is perhaps the greatest deterrent to crime, second only to the vast reduction in the amount of fares picked up at random rather than by cell phone, including transit apps such as HAIL A CAB.

Let’s take some representative cab rides to find out what driving in today’s taxicab industry is all about.

If you’re not willing or able to call in a request for pickup, the quickest way to get a cab is to find a cabstand where they wait in queue. The most typical location is around the corner from a large hotel. If it were twenty years ago, the drivers would be standing outside their cabs smoking and trading stories. Today, they sit in their cars looking at a touch screen where jobs are being posted continuously. They continue to wait on line or respond electronically for the job and leave the other drivers to wait. To save wear on their fingertips, several drivers on line were using a small remote to choose a pickup close to their immediate location or delete it from the screen.

Most of the drivers waiting to be called to the front of the hotel by the doorman or bell captain were looking for a substantial fare such as a ride to the airport. It may be difficult to comprehend but years ago the fleet would gas up the cab for you free of charge. Today’s leasing cabbies have to factor in fuel costs, so the driver has to weigh spending downtime versus intermittent trips to the airport that guarantee a higher fee plus extra for handling baggage. That’s why for a ride crosstown, only a cab at the very back of the line was willing to take my fare. My destination was the Harris County (Texas) criminal court located at the opposite side of town. I chose the court district because its high volume of foot traffic would hopefully provide the best opportunity to hail a cab the old-fashioned way, with a wave of the hands.

With a sticker showing a maximum crosstown rate of six dollars, it was no wonder only a backmarker on the line was willing to take me. This was obviously an attempt at getting more people to use taxicabs. Another sticker on the passenger window said the driver only has two dollars in cash. The driver was from Nigeria and has been driving a cab for three years. When asked why there were no partitions in any of the cabs, he said he would prefer one for night shift. But there was a surveillance camera mounted above the rearview mirror staring me in the face. His least favorite times to work were Friday and Saturday nights even though they could be the most lucrative. Why? Because of drunks. By law, drivers are not required to transport people under the influence but it’s not always possible to identify the inebriated before they get into the cab and the meter has started. This part of driving a cab will never change.

For the next ride, I waited outside the bustling courthouse for about twenty minutes before one lone yellow cab was visible in traffic. I hailed it and the driver pulled over. The taxi was a somewhat aged minivan with sliding door access to the passenger compartment. Unfortunately, the door handle didn’t work properly. The driver had to exit the vehicle and open the door for me. The interior of the cab was not partitioned but again, an interior surveillance camera was watching.

Once inside the cab, I found that the driver was of classic description. Not merely engaging, he began asking me about my background in a thick accent. Driving on and off since 1983, he owned the cab outright but the medallion was mortgaged. His least favorite passengers were teenagers or young adults. He said that he’d been robbed twice. Given he had exited the cab and was out of view of the security camera inside his cab I was pretty sure he’d be robbed again. Sure, the street scene where he picked me up was amidst a throng of people in front of a criminal courts building, but what about the next time he was making a pickup on an empty street?


Hail a Cab apps (applications) have made taxi driving a much more secure profession. Certainly anyone bent on robbing a cab driver can order a cab on a borrowed or stolen cell phone to avoid being traced, but with so many riders now using their smart phones, the much more dangerous method of cruising the streets for fares is nearly nonexistent.

He described one robbery as being by a professional yet no money was taken. It was strictly of the “gun to the head and apology for not having money for the fare” variety. The driver referred to the situation as being professional because he saw the incident as part and parcel of the man’s lifestyle. One might compare it to a scofflaw offense such as jumping a subway turnstile. The definition of the word scofflaw shares terminology with the word outlaw, “one who habitually ignores the law.”

Dealing with riders skipping out on the fare will always be a part of driving a cab. Surveillance cameras inside the cab may make it less likely but it’s never a good idea to run after a fare beater. First of all, you lose control of the cab and what’s inside. Second, you are away from your own security camera and whatever happens will likely not be witnessed. If they have a weapon they are more likely to use it outside the cab. The point of departure may in fact be on “their turf” and have help readily available. The amount of money lost to fare abandonment is further tempered by the leasing agreement since the cab owner will not be sharing in your take, whereas in the old days the cab owner shared in your take, so a lost fare should not in itself result in a calamitous loss of income.

The second robbery he described was, in his words, actually lucky for him but really couldn’t happen today. In the 1980s, when cash was the only method of payment, there was a rash of taxicab robberies by the same man. As the fare exited the cab, he reached in and grabbed all the money he could from the cigar/cash box. The cabbie opened the door, smashing into the thief just as a police car was turning the corner. When the cabbie told the police the robber had taken all his money, the police searched him and removed every cent from his pockets. Fortunately for the cabbie, this included all the money he had taken from each of the previous holdups he had committed. If this story sounds far-fetched, you might chalk it up to how much fun it is to ride in a taxicab and hear good stories. The important point to remember is that if you limit your response to curbside hailing and focus primarily on taking assignments (and payment) electronically, driving a cab is a lot safer than it used to be.

Other robberies related to me through a series of interviews nationwide closely reflect new stories found on the Internet. Two such examples that fit a common MO (modus operandi or method of operation or procedure) begin with how the cab is brought to the scene. Some rides are ordered and even billed through an account attached to a given cell phone. Others, when ordered over a cell phone, are paid via credit card by the passenger at the end of the ride. In the first example, the target of the theft was not the driver or his cash but the taxicab itself. The call was placed on a restaurant telephone so the caller was anonymous. Without a tracking device implanted on the vehicle it was impossible to trace before being disposed of in whole or in pieces.

In another type of robbery, the cab is either hailed at a location with few witnesses or again called in on a telephone not belonging to the perpetrator. (This is a good reason to not let a stranger borrow your cell phone no matter what their tale of woe.) The end result of one such incident as related to me was that the cabbie was shot through the driver’s side window as he tried to drive off. To me this begged further explanation, which ultimately revealed how thieves work around the presence of a security camera.

Let’s go back and work through the MO of this robbery and some of the options available to the perpetrator. Booked using a third-party phone to a destination with few if any witnesses, the passenger exits the cab before paying, stealing from the cabbie at gunpoint through the driver’s side window. That’s allegedly what happened in this case. Why wouldn’t the perpetrator start the robbery while still inside the cab? The simple answer is because he was under the eye of a security camera. Why didn’t he just wear a disguise, sunglasses, hat, or nondescript clothing? Because any attempt capable of obscuring his or her identity would have raised suspicion from the driver and he may have been refused service. Furthermore, while inside the cab the driver can drive off with him aboard. Although I’ve not actually heard of a verifiable incident of this, every taxi and limousine driver I’ve ever known said they’d crash the cab, flinging the robber forward while they remained buckled safely in their seats.

Just as an obvious disguise can send up a red flag, so can the actions of a passenger showing surprise and acting uncomfortable in front of a security camera. In the chapter on security for real estate agents we discussed identifying the client and how probing questions can be put in a humorous manner. If the driver is having second thoughts about their passenger, he or she could ask them what they do for a living. If they don’t say movie actor offer to send them a copy of the ride as a screen test. Or joke with them about being on the television program Taxicab Confessions.

One red flag you really have to be on your toes for is a reluctance to enter the cab. It’s a tough one because you have to decide if it’s a legitimate concern on their part due to what it might cost or are they working up the nerve to commit a robbery right there to avoid getting into the cab and being recorded by the surveillance camera. We all know what it feels like to make a decision to buy or not to buy. This is a lower-stress situation than pumping up to commit a crime. Look for clenching and unclenching of hands, constriction of the neck/throat muscles, sweating, or stuttering. It may be a rule that you can’t turn down a reasonable request for service but your rule number one, as per the owner/driver described earlier who began his career more than thirty years ago, is “If you don’t like how they look, drive off!”

The electronic age of Hail a Cab may have made driving a cab much safer than it used to be but there are still some drawbacks. The lure of quick money doesn’t necessarily apply because with payment of fares processed through a credit card or billable account commissions are not distributed on a daily basis. Tips are also counted as part of the pay and rarely given in cash at the end of the ride. This can be a positive if you are trying to save money because the temptation to spend cash tips is much less or even nonexistent. In addition, not walking away from the garage with pockets bulging with small bills greatly reduces the probability of being robbed on the way home from a shift.

One of the questions I was able to ask drivers working in cities where they have the option of legally carrying a concealed firearm was, “Do you carry?” Actually, not every state allows drivers that are also concealed handgun licensees to carry on duty. It is also the prerogative of private companies located in such states to forbid the carriage of a firearm or other types of weapons while driving their cabs. Certainly fleet garages that still operate in the loaning of cabs without the drivers working as independent contractors have the final say. But according to the Houston cabbies that I spoke with operating entirely via a lease program, concealed carry was a real possibility. Of course, this would assume the driver was otherwise qualified under the law. Nevertheless, not one of the cab drivers interviewed actually had or admitted to having a firearm while driving. In some cases this may have had to do with their immigration status, directly or indirectly, even though the background check in Houston, for example, was much the same as for obtaining a CHL, concealed handgun license. The indirect effect of immigration status might simply be that in most countries the population is not allowed to possess firearms, let alone carry them in public, and personal armament is simply a foreign concept, so to speak.

One driver I spoke with said he’d feel safer if he knew that his customers were not able to legally carry a gun. In that case, I pointed out, only the criminals would have guns. Sheepishly, he admitted to keeping a BB gun with him on the job. He explained that he kept it as a deterrent, openly fearing the complications of carrying a deadly weapon more than he feared a situation where he would be unable to scare off a genuine threat. Leaving him to his decision, I would point out to the reader that less than lethal devices should never take on the appearance of actual deadly weapons. We see it in the news all the time. Tragedy instigated by the deployment of a fake gun rendering the use of deadly force by someone with a real gun ending in tragedy.

If there is any doubt about just how much electronic hailing has changed the taxicab profession, consider the following. After a day of interviewing cabbies and riding from one cab stand to another I decided to return to the hotel at my point of origin by manually hailing a cab in the street. Standing on a corner just a block or two off the exit of a freeway feeding traffic back into the downtown area, a lone cab appeared after about a ten-minute wait. Incredibly, it was the same cab I had hailed earlier in front of the courthouse and was in fact the only cab I’d seen the entire day that was working the streets.

Preemptive Behavioral Response for the Taxicab Driver


If your impression of the person or persons hailing your cab from the street makes you uncomfortable in any way, keep driving and don’t take the fare.

If a radio call or other form of electronic hail brings you to a passenger or to a location that makes you uncomfortable in any way, keep driving and don’t take the fare.

Limit or eliminate altogether the practice of picking up passengers via curbside hail.

Don’t be afraid to specialize:

Pick up passengers from cabstands directly related to airports or hotels only.

Pick up passengers by radio call or electronic hail only.

Always ask for a cross street to help find an address. Minimize the distraction of looking for an exact address.

Post window stickers such as “Driver only carries $X in change.”

Install a bullet-resistant partition and maintain its clarity and all moving parts.

Install a security camera whether or not you have a partition.

Post a sticker alerting the presence of a security camera on all side and rear windows.

Criminals rely on not being identified and prefer to act off-camera. Bear in mind that the moment before a passenger enters the cab and after they exit are critical times.

Be wary of any prospective passenger who appears reluctant to enter the cab.

Do not have an extended conversation with fares outside the cab.

Maintain all doors so the passengers can handle them easily without your assistance.

Maintain the remote door locking feature of your cab.

Enter and/or exit the cab by unlocking only the driver’s side door to prevent unwanted intrusion.

Maintain the air conditioning and heating features so the windows need not be opened.

Limousine Driving

Making money driving for a limousine company can mean driving a luxury sedan or even a small motor coach or van. While some fleets specializing in short hauls could be thought of as unmarked upscale taxis, the traditional job of driving a limousine involves both transporting and waiting for clients as they travel to and from airports, shopping trips, business meetings, and special events. With the high-end luxury car driver in mind, here are some tips every professional should know.

The services of a limousine or limousine company are rarely if ever secured without a standing account and/or backing of a credit card. As such, cash is not typically paid directly to the driver. This reduces motivation for robbery but there are still other attractions for the criminal. Instead of money the car itself may be the target. Stolen vehicles are commonly used in other crimes but limos are not a good choice for a getaway car. They are useful to chop shops, however. A chop shop is a garage that specializes in the precision dismantling of stolen cars so that the parts can be sold separately. Whereas a new car depreciates in value the moment it is driven off the dealer’s lot, this same car can be sold for much more than its original price tag when sold piece by piece. Some cars are even stolen for a single prime component, such as the safety airbags. And some vehicles are stolen for a joy ride that usually ends up with the car being wrecked as part of the fun.

Making money driving a limousine requires long hours because the vehicles are hired for charges relating primarily to time used rather than distance driven. Drivers might wait at the garage several hours at a time collecting a small hourly wage only to be called for a job at the end of their shift. The job might extend the driver’s day until the next morning. As such, a driver can get tired and hungry. More than one limo or luxury town car (sedan) has been snatched when the driver left the car with motor running in front of a coffee shop or hot dog stand.

The two primary periods of elevated threat for the limousine driver are during waiting periods and when a client enters or exits the vehicle. Keeping the doors locked during wait times will avoid nuisance crimes like trespassing. You’d be surprised how many times this happens. People just think it’s funny to try out what it feels like to be in a limousine.

Where you go, who your clients are, and how they act can also have an effect on security. This starts with choosing carefully for whom you work. Keep in mind that fleets with better reputations often pass on or “farm out” calls from questionable clientele to smaller independent owners. Questionable clientele include people with a reputation for abusing the interior of the limousine or staying out all night. Identifying clients that rent limousines can be just as important as identifying prospective homebuyers before you take them out to show property. Credit checks are a valuable tool as well. The only time I took on a client with two first names on his license and credit cards during my experience as a driver for hire, I became suspicious and insisted that the owner guarantee the job with a cash deposit. It’s a good thing I did. The credit cards turned out to be bogus.

It is not unheard of for the independent owner of a small fleet to rely heavily on referrals. Nor is it unheard of for an independent hungry for work to take on a client without a proper background check. Cash customers should be considered suspect because this helps bypass the type of background check afforded by a credit card. A ride unsecured by a credit card also means the liability is probably going to be limited to the amount of the deposit.

More often than not the types of limousines in the fleet can tell you something about the clientele you will be driving. If you see a lot of super stretched limos in unusual colors, the clientele is going to be party people and generally younger in age. For fleets that handle party people, the bulk of the hours will probably be on nights and weekends compared to limousine companies that rely primarily on corporate accounts that keep them busy during the standard five-day workweek This can be ideal if driving a limo is your second job. Just remember what the taxi drivers said were their least favorite fares, young people and drunks. The presence of an onboard bar means sooner or later you will be dealing with a drunk. Aside from vandalism and having to clean up vomit, you may find yourself wrestling with a client or having to deal with a violent situation involving them. Physical injuries, lawsuits, and job termination can be the result.


The experience of working in the limousine industry can vary according to the types of cars available for hire. A service with several standard-length sedans generally service businesspeople. Vans typically run to and from the airport. Stretched specialty vehicles means the company handles parties and special events. Not only does driving a super-stretch limousine require skill and special licensing, the driver must also know how to handle people who can at times test the driver’s patience.

Setting boundaries with clients out for an evening of fun is just as important as developing a rapport. One very good idea is to establish the itinerary at the beginning of the job when people are more serious and not vary from it as the night wears on. Explaining that any changes or unplanned stops have to be cleared with base usually works better than just telling the customer there will be an extra charge. Of course, an extension of time will cost more anyway but people tend to go along with it until they get the bill. Rock and roll groups, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, were famous for trashing their limos with a “send me the bill” attitude, but you may very well drive less-famous clients intent on partying like rock stars that will act this way as well.

The days of celebrities needing more cameras and press are over thanks to cell phone cameras, TMZ, and social media. That’s why it’s the established, lower-profile garages that are typically hired by celebrities. For example, legendary diva Leontyne Price would never ride in a white limousine. She considered it beneath her, déclassé. Of course, Miss Price required the door be opened for her whenever she entered or exited the vehicle. Such service is part and parcel of traditional limousine service and changing the job from mere transport to one that takes into account security for the clientele, the vehicle, and the driver.

The protection as well as transport of clientele is really a separate, specialized profession. But whenever the driver opens his door and leaves the driver’s seat, the threat level is increased. Actually, it’s not much different than if you were driving your own family, especially children or the elderly. Here’s a quick rundown on making a safe stop to deliver passengers:

As you approach the destination, look for a spot in front of the most direct path between the car door and the building entrance.

As you approach the destination, remind the passengers to stay seated until you open the door for them.

Always prefer a spot at curbside even if it is next to a fire hydrant or in a no parking zone.

Whether you park curbside or are forced to double-park, stop the car and spend two to three seconds checking front, back, and to the sides, ending with the left side mirror for oncoming traffic.

Roll down the window about halfway and turn off the engine. Take the keys with you as you exit. This will prevent theft and prevent you from being locked out of the car.

Double-check traffic approaching from the rear.

Look for anyone standing or approaching the vehicle as you circle the car.

Always look left, right, and finally to the rear before you open the door.

You must train yourself to comprehend and react to what you see. This means becoming more judgmental. Have an “eager” eye.

The newest way to earn a living driving is by joining Uber, which started out almost like a pizza delivery job because you drive your own car and they supply the passengers. Without the proliferation of the cell phone this type of business probably wouldn’t exist. The advantage to being an Uber driver is its part-time work when you want scheduling. But pressure from established private hire transport services that are subject to regulation from state or local agencies are pressing these independent drivers to conform. Some of the regulations have to do with the cars being used, but at issue is identifying the legality and fitness of the driver. And, at the time of this writing, there is a dispute whether or not the drivers are independent contractors or employees. This affects not only benefits due the drivers but also taxation, at least indirectly. No matter how this works out, the security risk, like the status of the network itself, is still evolving.

As long as the Uber driver is allowed to operate without any visible signage, the risk of catching the eye of a robber is lower than that of a taxicab. As long as payment is electronic, the presence or exchange of cash can also minimize the threat of robbery. However, a driver in a very nice car can still be requested to a location from a third party telephone to avoid identification and carjacked. Statistics of Uber drivers being robbed are still being compiled partly because it is a relatively new way of doing business. Many Uber drivers have never worked in transportation before and indeed advertising for drivers seems to be pointed to this demographic. This inexperience could serve to increase their vulnerability.

For the Uber passengers the non-commercial appearance of the vehicle likely adds to the appeal. But not (yet) being under the licensing of a taxi and limousine commission, it is unclear just how much effort is put into background checks for Uber drivers, let alone fingerprinting and checking police or immigration records.

Preemptive Behavioral Response for the Everyday Driver

The above information should be helpful in establishing a safety protocol for anyone who is currently working or considering working in the personal transportation industry, but what about everyone else? Isn’t driving so much a part of our lives that we can indeed apply many of the lessons learned by the professional?


How to avoid being a victim of smash-and-grab or “Jugging”:

Avoid making extra stops after banking or making large purchases.

If your errands include a long list of stops, prioritize so that you go directly home after visiting a bank or buying a “big ticket” item such as a computer or television set.

How to avoid being the victim of a driveway robbery:

Signaling and looking left and right are natural protocol before turning into your neighborhood.

Check the rearview mirror to see if any car turns in with you.

If you do not recognize the car behind you as you enter the neighborhood or approach your residence, keep driving.

Do not brake suddenly or do anything to acknowledge the other driver.

Leave the neighborhood as though you forgot something at the store.

If they continue to follow, dial 911 and stay on the line with the operator.

Maintain the basic safety features of your vehicle:

Make sure the remote door locking feature of your vehicle is operating.

Get in the habit of locking the doors as soon as you enter.

Do not use the switch to unlock all the doors if you are the only person exiting the vehicle.

If you door locks can be programmed:

Continue to utilize the habit of locking the doors as soon as you enter.

Program the doors to lock when the vehicle is put into gear.

Avoid programming the doors to unlock when the vehicle is put into park.

Maintain the heat and air conditioning units so that the windows do not need to be left in the open position.

Be in control of where you park:

Wherever you go, the presence of anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way is justification for you to leave.

Park with the front of the vehicle facing forward.

Backing out is not only slower but more dangerous.

Backing out limits visibility of oncoming traffic as well as an approaching threat.

Always park beneath a light at night or if there is the possibility you may not be returning to the car before dark.

Park as close to the entrance of your destination as possible.

If you cannot park near your destination, try to park in view of or in line with the front door.

If you are visiting a restaurant, sit where you can see the vehicle.

Parking away from a group of cars will allow you to see around the vehicle as you approach.

Do not immediately exit the vehicle after coming to a stop.

Check the rearview, left side, and right side mirrors before opening the doors.

Do not pick up hitchhikers.

Do not open the door or open the window to speak with strangers.