No airbags in most taxis?

SINGAPORE: The recent accident involving a Ferrari crashing into a taxi — killing the taxi driver — which then hit a motorcycle has cast the spotlight on the safety of those who ply the roads here to make a living.

The accident took place at Rochor Road on Saturday morning. The driver of the Ferrari, Mr Ma Chi, died at the scene, while ComfortDelGro taxi driver, Mr Cheng Teck Hock, and his passenger, Ms Shigemi Ito, succumbed to injuries in hospital.

ComfortDelGro did not respond to Today’s queries by press time but according to ComfortDelGro taxi drivers Today spoke to the transport operator’s Hyundai Sonata taxis are not equipped with airbags.

A check with other taxi operators here showed that airbags are not an essential feature of most taxis here despite the fact that taxi drivers spend most part of a day in their vehicles.

Only Prime Taxi, which has a fleet of 700, has installed airbags in all its taxis. Its general manager, Mr Eric Ang, said: "(Taxi drivers) spend 10 hours on the road daily, so we feel it’s essential."

TransCab, which has a fleet of 4,490, said its 1,890 older Toyota Crowns do not have airbags. But these cars will be gradually phased out by 2014, said its general manager Jasmine Tan. The remaining Toyota Wish, Chevrolet and Mercedes vehicles all have airbags.

Similarly, SMRT Taxis’ older models of Toyota Crown, Nissan Cedric and London taxis are not fitted with airbags. SMRT Taxis director Tony Heng said: "These taxis will be replaced progressively with new taxis that are equipped with airbags."

According to SMART Cab director Johnny Harjantho, his company’s older fleet of Toyota Crown taxis do not have airbags. He noted that technical specifications of these taxis may also not allow for airbags to be installed. He acknowledged: "Airbags do not prevent accidents but it is a way to keep both the driver and passengers safe."

Taxi drivers whose vehicles are not equipped with airbags told Today that they are concerned about bearing the cost of installing the safety feature. Mr Tan H K, 56, said: "I would also have to send my cab in and that means loss of earnings."

But Mr Patrick Aw, 54, said: "It is something I am okay living without. If it is your time to go, not even airbags can save you."

Public Transport Council chairman Gerard Ee said he personally felt that all taxis should be equipped with airbags, since such a safety feature is commonly available.

He said: "I don’t think that safety is something that one should compromise on, especially considering the number of hours that the taxi spends on the road." He also noted that given that taxis here can only ply the roads for a maximum of seven years, even the oldest taxis can be installed with airbags.

Mr Ee said: "Taxi operators should show concern for their drivers by ensuring the taxis they rent out have airbags — they can arrange to install airbags on those which do not have them by arranging for fitting to be done on (taxi drivers’) day—off and to schedule it to minimise downtime."


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