The plexiglass barrier installed in many cabs is only inches away from the passenger's face in Manhattan, NY March 8, 2012. 

Plastic partitions pose safety issue

The safety partitions between cab drivers and passengers pose a danger in the event of a crash.

They oughta have their heads examined.

Taxi passengers who don’t buckle up are winding up in emergency rooms with horrific facial injuries after smashing into hard plastic partitions meant to protect drivers.

“MY FACE WAS COMPLETELY BUSTED OPEN” SAYS UNLUCKY TAXI PASSENGER WHO COLLIDED WITH DIVIDER

Doctors say they have been treating a steady stream of New Yorkers for busted noses, broken teeth, cuts and even brain trauma — some just from fender benders or short stops.

“This is a New York City tragedy and public health issue that has not changed in almost two decades,” said Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, chairman of emergency medicine at Bellevue Hospital and NYU Langone Medical Center.

“We don’t have a good system to count them, but there isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t see at least two patients with these terrible injuries.”

Dr. Rahul Sharma, who has worked in several city emergency rooms, is all too familiar with the damage the anti-crime partitions, required since 1994, can cause.

“Ask any ER doc in Manhattan, and they will tell you they see it very frequently,” he said. “People have a false sense of security in the backseat of a cab . It’s dangerous without a seat belt.”

The threat is so serious, the Taxi and Limousine Commission asked Nissan to design a new partition for the 2013 “Taxi of Tomorrow” that will be built in — not installed later.

The new model, to be unveiled next month as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to create a uniform taxi fleet, will also undergo federal crash testing with the partitions for the first time, TLC Commissioner David Yassky told the Daily News.

“If the partitions in taxis on the road now were subject to federal safety standards and crash tests, they would all flunk,” said another taxi official.

The partitions — which have a nose-to-partition distance of roughly 16 to 19 inches for passengers in the backseat — aren’t the only problem: Two out of three taxi riders don’t buckle up in the back, a TLC survey survey found.

The barriers in yellow Crown Victorias and Toyota Camrys now on the road have protruding steel nuts and bolts, sharp-edged credit card machines and change cups at face level.

In the case of even a minor crash, that can spell disaster for riders.

Take the case of Thomas Evans
After a meeting last June, Evans, the CEO of Bankrate.com, hailed a cab on E. 72nd St. The driver took off, and less than two blocks later, he rear-ended another car.

Although Evans, 57, always wears a seat belt in his own car, he never did in cabs. He was looking down to turn off the TV when he was thrown against the partition.

“There was blood everywhere, and in my eyes. I couldn’t see anything,” said Evans, who ended up with a broken nose, facial cuts and six stitches in his forehead.

“The partition is so close to your face if you have forward momentum. Now when I get in a cab, I am nervous and always have my hand and foot against the partition to brace myself just in case
— and I wear a seat belt.”

Most passengers get to their destination without incident. There are 485,000 rides in 13,237 yellow cabs each day, and the vast majority are safe.

But even cabbies are frustrated with riders’ failure to buckle up because they often have to stop suddenly to avoid hitting a bicyclist, jaywalker or another car.

“New Yorkers don’t like to be told what to do,” said one veteran driver.

“I picked up a lady with three children at Grand Central, and when I asked her to put seat belts on them, she ignored me. A bike came in front of me, I hit the brake, and one of the children fell down on the floor. She blamed me. I tried very hard to do the right thing.”

Pierre Serge, who has been driving 10 years, said fares are “oblivious,” paying more attention to their phones than safety.

“It’s like gambling; you never know what is going to happen,” he said.

Goldfrank said the only time he saw a decline in taxi victims came when the TLC installed public service recordings of famous New Yorkers like Ed Koch and Joe Torre telling riders to buckle up.

“But it drove the cab drivers crazy,” said Goldfrank, who walks between the hospital and Grand Central every day to avoid taking cabs after all the ugly crashes he has seen.

Added Dr. John E. Sherman, a Fifth Ave. plastic surgeon who has been treating cab accident victims for 20 years:

“No cab should be allowed to leave the side of the curb unless passengers have buckled up. Period. End of story.

“It ought to be the law.”

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