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Photo via Shutterstock
Photo via Shutterstock

Following a recent string of violent attacks, a Flushing-based legislator is calling for stiffer punishments to protect for-hire drivers from harm.

Joined by drivers and community advocates, Assemblyman Ron Kim presented his recently proposed bill at Flushing Town Hall on April 24. Called the “Taxi Driver Protection Act,” the bill would raise the penalty for assaulting a taxi or for-hire driver from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Under current Penal Law, it is a felony to cause injury to workers including train and bus operators, station agents and emergency medical service paramedics. The bill would add for-hire driving to the list of occupations.

The bill would also require a sign in every for-hire vehicle informing passengers of the legal consequences of assault. The sign would read, “ATTENTION: Assaulting A Taxi Driver Is Punishable By Up To Twenty-Five Years In Prison.” This law already exists in New York City, Kim said, but the bill would extend the measure to the rest of the state.

“Violence against drivers needs to be taken seriously,” said SM Uddin, a for-hire driver and assault victim.  “After I was attacked, I have been scared to drive and worried about another attack. We need to send a message that if you attack a taxi driver there will be serious consequences. We need to stop violence against drivers.”

A significant percentage of for-hire drivers in New York are of South Asian descent, the assemblyman noted, and details of recent assaults suggest that race or religion may have been a factor.

Last month, a Sikh taxi driver from Ozone Park was assaulted and robbed of his turban by a drunken passenger while working in the Bronx.

Anwar Syed, an Uber driver who was punched until he was unconscious after telling a passenger he was Muslim, also spoke of the need for action.

“In the wake of these heartless crimes, we need a response from Albany,” he said. “No New Yorker should worry about being attacked for simply doing our job. I call on lawmakers to protect taxi and rideshare drivers before another life is shattered.”

“These assaults against drivers are completely unacceptable,” Kim said. “They are everyday New Yorkers just trying to make a living, working hard to put food on the table for their families. The fact that the victims’ ethnicity or beliefs may have influenced the attackers’ decisions is even more despicable.”

The complete bill can be found here.

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