When taxi driver Munir Akbarali drove down Riverside Drive last week, he wasn’t greeted by his usual hailing passenger. Instead, his cab met a strong gust that flung snow from another car onto his windshield, forcing him to brake rapidly to avoid smashing into other vehicles.
The New York State Federation of Cabs says that’s just one of too many close calls this year.
As the onslaught of the snow storms lingers this winter, the federation has asked the city and state government to revive state legislation that would fine drivers who drive without first clearing snow from their cars. The federation claims that the snow adds to the hazardous conditions cab face navigating snowy and icy streets.
“Trucks, buses, vans, SUVs and cars are basically blowing frozen ice,” said Fernando Mateo, a spokesman for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. “When you’re going 40, 50, 60 miles an hour on a highway and that ice hits your windshield, it could basically cause a fatality.”
Under the bill, originally proposed in 2009, drivers would be fined a minimum of $150 for failing to remove snow and ice three hours after the end of a snowfall. Depending on the severity of an accident, penalties could climb as high as $850. Similar legislation already exists in neighbouring states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
After its introduction by Senator Martin Dilan, the bill was referred back to committee in January 2011, and has seen little traction since. Graham Parker, communications director for Senator Dilan, said the bill fell “on the backburner” due to more high-profile bills requiring attention.
“Every year, we have thousands of bills in the Senate that never make it through one reason or another,” Parker said. “Sometimes, other bills take longer to debate or initiatives from the governor demand attention first.”
Despite the bill’s stall since 2011, Parker said that the bill is up for a vote again this year and adds there is still interest in its passage. “Each time we have a major snowfall, people are always calling our office to check the status of the bill. We’re doing our best to get it passed.”
Cab drivers like Akbarali suspect this year’s particularly bad weather has renewed interest in getting the legislation passed. “Most years, it’s not too much of a problem, maybe for four or five days of the whole winter” Akbarali said. “This year, much worse. It feels like every week a storm blows in.”
Representatives in the state and city government have yet to confirm whether they intend to take up the legislation again, but it seems unlikely to impact drivers during this winter season. If the bill remains as it was during its original 2009 writing, the law would come into effect on the November 1 following its passage.
To Ali Farid, another Taxi driver, voters’ failure to secure the bill’s passage would be hypocritical. “When the snow comes, everyone wants to flock to taxi’s and gypsy cabs, but they complain [we] drive too slow,” Farid says. “We help them out when it’s snowing. They should help us out, too.”