Wednesday, June 04, 2008

How To Get A Taxi Driver To Slow Down

Being that I am perceived by so many to be the last English-speaking, American white guy to be driving a cab in New York City, I have often found myself serving as the default complaint department for the entire taxi industry. And the complaint I hear most often is about a ride from hell in which a cabbie drove 90 miles per hour on a highway, zigzagged between huge trucks, tailgated every vehicle on the road, and yet somehow arrived at the destination without an accident.

Interestingly, whenever I hear this story it is told by the survivor with a big smile on his face. Apparently danger is great fun if you come out alive. Nevertheless, I always ask these two questions:

1) Did you put on your seat belt?

2) Did you ask the driver to slow down?

Invariably the answers I get to both questions are, "Uhhh... noooo... ha-ha-ha-ha."

Now as far as the seat belts are concerned, what can I say, obviously anyone should have put them on when being transported by a maniac, and there's no point in belaboring the point. But it's this other question that intrigues me. What is it that stops a person who clearly feels his life is in danger (which it is) from speaking up?

Well, from what I can best perceive, it's fear. Fear that the comment will further anger the driver and that will make him drive even faster, and then there will be an accident for sure. So people just say a silent prayer and hold on tight to their rosary beads and the hand straps.

These passengers, however, do understand, even if it's just on an instinctive level, that asking a driver to slow down is entering a minefield of taxicab etiquette. The truth is that, although a cabbie routinely receives substandard wages and a lower social status than his job deserves, one thing he always feels he has is his professional pride. Like being insulted by a passenger who gives directions to simple destinations (see my last post), being asked to slow down clearly implies that the driver is deficient in the one thing at which he knows he has superhuman powers: the ability to drive an automobile.

And for the most part, this is true. In New York City, anyone who has been driving a cab for two years or more is very likely to have mastered the craft of controlling a car to a level that is not understood by the average driver. It's an ability not only to be at cause over his own vehicle, but to be able to predict the motion of all other particles in the playing field - cars, buses, police cars, trucks, fire engines, ambulances, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, maniacs on roller blades, pigeons, and dogs - and make adjustments to his own motion without even thinking about it. It can be compared to a pianist whose fingers can play concertos while what he's actually thinking about it is just how much emphasis he should give to a note that is still two minutes away.

Indeed, one of the most treasured compliments ever given to me as a driver was from a passenger in my cab who turned out to be an instructor of racing car drivers. He was aware of the nuances in my driving and commented to me about it. Music to my ears!

But what can you do when the driver you are stuck with appears to be not a maestro but a madman? Aside from calling your family to tell them that you love them, here's the solution:

1) Compliment the driver on his driving skill. I mean, heap it on. Say something like, "You know, I've been watching the way you've been moving through traffic and I gotta tell you, you have awesome driving ability. It's like you're an acrobat in the circus or something. Really amazing."

2) And then say this: "But, listen, I think I ate something a little while ago that's not agreeing with me. I'm feeling like I may get sick. Would it be possible for you to drive a little slower please? "

It will work, I guarantee it. You've removed the pride button and you've given him his own personal reason for cooperating with you. The three most feared things in the life of a taxi driver are death, paralysis, and somebody throwing up in your cab.

The funny thing is, I've been giving this advice to passengers for years and then recently I had a passenger ask me to slow down because she was feeling a little nauseous!


But that's what life is like, isn't it?

And life is also like this: clicking here for Pictures From A Taxi.


Mike S said...

It's strange, but the 1st paragraph got me tinking of how a law enforcement friend down south often got myself and other Saturday Night Race Drivers from the local tracks to pose as 'ride alongs' in the patrol cars and submit our observations of any area we could note problems with concerning any or all the drivers ridden with to the Academy Driver Training Instructors to see if they might want to include them in their course. Then I read about the race driving instructor.
I still find myself subconsciously rating anyone I ride with(quietly & to myself). Another note, whenever I'm in any vehicle equipped with them, I use seat belts unless they're so filthy as to be unusable. Even that rule goes by the wayside at higher speeds(ie, above 40mph for more than a minute)as I've learned it's not the one driving your car who'll usually get you killed, it's the nut or drunk that hits the one you're in that does it.

Gilighan Qabista said...

good tip. mind if i share it with my passengers?