Lessons from a Crazy Taxi Ride: Improving Processes in Unpredictable Environments
When I was leaving the recent Shingo Prize conference, last week, I had what can only be described as a taxi ride from hell on my way from Covington, Kentucky to the CVG airport.
The taxi driver, who had been called for me by the hotel, was acting primarily as a rolling dispatcher, constantly answering his phone and radio, taking his eyes of the road to write down or read notes from a notepad on the center console. It scared the crap out of me and it ended with me cursing him out, a fair reaction in the “fight or flight” sense.
I'll share details and reflections here. My point is not to trash the taxi driver, but to raise some issues related to workplace safety, including healthcare. Although, I should probably post the company's name and phone number as a public service to help others avoid this guy…
As I realized what the driver's mode of operation was, spending more time focusing on dispatching than driving, I was so surprised and flummoxed… I thought about asking him to stop to let me out after we had traveled just a few blocks on surface roads. I should have gotten out, refused to pay, and gotten a new, safe driver. But, I froze. We ended up on the freeway and it got worse.
Knowing that confronting a taxi driver, even calmly, can end up in an ugly situation of getting yelled at by the driver (at least from Boston experience), I kept quiet, made sure my seat belt was buckled, and took two video clips from the backseat as evidence of what was happening.
In this first video, when we are already on the freeway, the driver takes 3 phone calls and 3 radio calls in 90 seconds, looking down from the road at least 17 times by my count (play along and count with me!):
In the second video, he takes 2 phone calls and 5 radio calls in 1:47. There's quite a stretch just after 1:30 into the video where he's looking down way more than he's looking at the road for a good 10 second stretch.
Here is an annotated picture for those who can't see YouTube at work:
You see how the radio handset is hanging down in easy reach? Maybe he thinks he is being clever? It's clearly unsafe distracted driving either way. He really came up close on the bumper of a minivan at about 70 MPH. Had there been any reason for that van in front of us to brake, we would have plowed into them.
Here is a screen grab of one of those times he was looking down to read or write on that notepad:
About halfway to the airport, between calls, the driver says to me,
“Sorry I can't talk with you, I'm kinda busy.“
Well, I just lost it. I didn't want him to chat and be my friend, I wanted him to drive safely. I told him as much and I lost control and cursed him out about how he needed to just focus on driving or he was going to kill us both or some innocent family.
I basically just got silence as a response. And then the phone calls started again. I tried making noise while he was on these calls, asking him to get off the phone and drive. Then, I shut up, realizing that he wasn't going to change and I was probably just causing more of a distraction. I thought about calling 911, but I decided to just try to flag down an officer at the airport if I could.
When we got to the airport, he got out to get my suitcase and I yelled at him (trying to make a scene in case there was an officer nearby). I told the driver he was unsafe and a danger to himself, his customers, and everybody else on the roads. I told him it was just a matter of time before he killed somebody. He is a “Darwin Award” winner in the making.
The driver's lame response?
“But I didn't hit anyone.”
So that put me further over the edge and I yelled some more about his faulty thinking and worse driven. Joe Pesci in the movie “Casino” would have been proud of my yelling, my mother not so much.
My taxi driver didn't ask for money and he drove off. I've never been more angry about a free taxi ride. A town car driver who overheard our curbside verbal altercation said he saw my driver drifting and swerving a bit as they arrived to the airport and he couldn't believe my taxi driver was acting as dispatcher from behind the wheel. I need to call that town car service in the future.
I found an airport police officer and told him what happened, but he couldn't do anything since he didn't see the unsafe driving.
I called the city of Erlanger, Kentucky, where the taxi was based out of. Unlike big cities, they didn't have a taxi licensing department. So they transferred me to the police department. I talked to an officer, who asked me to send the video. The officer said he would likely call the driver in for a “come to Jesus meeting” about his driving behavior.
The taxi didn't have a posting as you'd see in New York or Boston (or a big city) about a medallion number and how to complain. I've found that cities that don't put that “how to file a complaint” info in the taxi typically have lousy drivers.
How Do We Judge Safety?
I hope everybody would agree that “I didn't hit anybody” is not a good rationalization for unsafe behaviors. Safety is more about ongoing practices than it is about a binary “did I hit anybody or not?” question.
If a pilot skipped their pre-flight checklist, would the FAA accept “But I didn't crash the plane” as an excuse?
If a surgeon skips the “universal precautions” before a surgery, is it ok to say:
“But I didn't operate on the wrong body part”?
At the Shingo Conference, I had an attendee who worked in manufacturing, who told me about a recent multi-day hospital stay. One day, his nurse was about to give him the medication without checking his patient ID verbally. The patient spoke up, as hospitals often encourage patients to do, and asked the nurse to wait and check his name and birthdate. He said the nurse seemed shocked that he would challenge her that way.
To her credit, the nurse didn't say, “But I didn't give anyone the wrong medication.” That's not a good excuse for not following a process.
Thinking back to taxis, do hospital rooms typically have a sign posted telling a patient how they can report an unsafe condition or how they can complain, as he could with taxis and certain cities?
As the Alcoa safety pyramid demonstrates, and as patient safety advocates point out, the best opportunity for catching and preventing errors comes when identify an unsafe condition or a near miss, as opposed to waiting for any patient harm to occur before reacting.
I was shocked at my taxi driver's behavior. I was stunned by his reaction and brushing off of my complaint. I was even more stunned by my latent ability to scream and curse somebody out. I didn't think I had that in me.Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.
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