January 4, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Power naps are a matter of life and death for sleep-deprived Black Car operators and Taxi drivers increasingly forced to stay on the road longer just to earn a living. But there aren’t nearly enough spots around town for them to rest and recharge.
Without designated areas where they can safely pull over and grab some much-needed sleep, drivers out on grueling 10- to 15-hour shifts are being told to scour chaotic streets and avenues for places where they might be able to circle back around for a vital 20-minute pitstop.
Sometimes they get lucky. Just as often, however, they do not. And the influx of thousands of new Uber drivers isn’t making the hunt for essential rest areas any easier.
Muhammad Barlas, a 57-year-old health and safety instructor with the Black Car Fund, says the City of New York needs to take steps in 2016 to create specially designated rest areas for exhausted drivers.
A nearly 20-year veteran of the industry, Barlas counsels the overwhelmingly young immigrant drivers in his classes to take at least two 20-minute power naps during long shifts — in addition to getting at least seven hours of rest during their off hours.
“A sleep-deprived driver is like a drunk driver,” Barlas says. “If you don’t sleep for 20 hours, it is equal to somebody that has a blood alcohol level of .08.”
Even the most stout and energetic driver is vulnerable to slipping into what Barlas calls, “micro-sleep” behind the wheel.
“It may only last a couple of seconds, but when somebody is traveling at 30, 40, or 50, miles per hour, a two- or three-second nap can be very dangerous — and your brain can take that nap at any time if you’re not properly rested,” Barlas says.
Insufficiently rested drivers are quietly becoming a big problem in large metropolitan areas where increasing numbers of drivers are hitting the road in search of a buck.
Last June, the Evening Standard reported that a sleepy Uber driver in the UK crashed into a bollard, injuring his 27-year-old female passenger.
In August, a Manhattan passenger who scored a ride through the Gett Black Car App took to Yelp to complain about a driver who started to nod off in heavy traffic while on his cell phone.
Drivers are prohibited to use cell phones, Bluetooths or any handheld or hands-free electronic devices while operating their vehicles, according to Taxi & Limousine Commission rules.
Despite statements to the contrary, however, Barlas says that bases and companies let their drivers “work as much as they want.”
“There is no control on hours worked,” he says. “Also, no proper enforcement from TLC as to how many hours a driver can be behind the wheel.”
The trucking industry, in contrast, is taking steps to address driver fatigue. Just a few weeks ago, federal regulators began to compel about 3 million commercial truck and bus drivers to electronically record their hours spent behind the wheel.
This week, Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez [D-10th District] chair of the New York City Council’s Transportation Committee, welcomed a plan to create specially designated rest areas for tired Black Car and Taxi drivers.
”Councilmember Rodriguez is always interested in new ways to improve driver safety in the for hire sector,” spokesperson Russell Murphy told LaborPress. “We are interested in hearing more about this proposal and any others that would ensure drivers are not overly fatigued when on the job.”
That can’t come quick enough for Barlas.
“It’s important for the city to have places for power naps,” he says. “There is no alternative to rest.”