Seatbelt dissension in the ranks

NEW laws forcing taxi drivers to wear a seatbelt have divided the local cabbie community with some welcoming the new safety measures and other drivers saying the move will increase their chances of being assaulted.

Taxi driver Paul Baker fears he and his fellow cabbies will be at the mercy of unruly passengers now they must buckle up on all journeys.

“If someone is going to rob a taxi or assault you all they have to do is grab your seatbelt,” he said.

“You’ve got no defence and you can’t get out.”

The new statewide laws started yesterday ending an exemption that let taxi drivers dodge compulsory seatbelt laws since they were introduced in 1971.

A Transport NSW spokesman says the change will enhance safety for drivers and also protect front seat passengers in the case of a side impact where an unrestrained driver could be thrown across the vehicle.

Less than 2 per cent of all NSW motorists injured in a crash are not wearing a seatbelt, but among taxi drivers the figure is 40 per cent, according to department figures.

But Mr Baker said taxi drivers are rarely seriously injured in accidents.

“[The new laws] are absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

“I’d like to see the percentage of drivers very seriously injured when they’re doing 40 to 50 kilometres around town.”

Fellow driver Darryl Curran said the new laws won’t affect taxi drivers and praised the change.

“It will definitely make it safer for drivers,” he said.

“It’s very rare for a driver to be assaulted so it’s a positive thing to have seatbelts. We definitely have more accidents than assaults.”

Mr Curran said he has never been assaulted in the 16 years he has driven taxis.

Mr Baker has also avoided being assaulted in the five years he has been driving, but said he would like to see security screens installed in Orange cabs like those in Sydney.

He said seatbelts will be a hindrance not a help for drivers, making it slower for them when they want to get out to help elderly passengers with their groceries.

The new law brings NSW in line with all other Australian states and territories were taxi drivers are already bound by seatbelt laws.

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