When was the last time you jumped in a taxi, only to realise that there wasn't a safety belt in the back? What about as you're driving along, you realise the driver doesn't have his belt on? Or he takes a call? Or he starts to text?! What do you do? Do you speak up immediately? Do you threaten to get out of the car? Would you remind the driver of his duty of care? Refuse to pay him?
I don't know about you, but with all of the situations above, my inner voice starts surfacing. 'You really should say something Seb, it's not safe... But it's only a short trip, what could go wrong? He knows what he is doing, he knows the risks. There aren't any other taxis around, just keep quiet and hope for the best'.
I once worked for a boss who said, 'I'm not sure hoping for the best is the most effective strategy we can have.'
I'm pleased to say that for the last few years, a stronger inner voice always wins through. 'Seb, you spend your life talking to people about safety leadership, so you need to step up now. Don't be a hypocrite. Speak up and be a safety leader'. So I do start a conversation with the driver, but I am careful how I do it.
Before speaking to him (it's nearly always a man), I have no idea about the circumstances. So I will start a conversation about his day, to ease my way in. I may joke or say ask something like, 'I bet you see some crazy drivers in your work,' exploring that before (quite quickly) moving onto the exposure that I can see. I'll say, 'I notice that you are not wearing a safety belt, is it uncomfortable?' It starts the conversation. I am the first to admit that many times, a driver will tell me to mind my own business or (my favourite), tell me that, 'It is not against the law in my country.' I get a short adrenalin rush before each interaction, as my inner voice will remind me of the times that conversations have not gone well.
But I am committed to continue. Nine times out of 10 a taxi driver has photos of family and loved ones on the dashboard or the sun visor. So I might point to that and very gently say, 'They want you to come home safely. A belt can help that. Pulling to the side of the road for a text will help that too.'
I received a wonderful surprise one morning that inspired me to write this blog. I spoke to a taxi driver on the way to my hotel one evening, as he wasn't wearing his belt. I didn't think the conversation went that well and when he asked for my card at the end, I assumed he was going to look up my company and write an email to complain! It turns out though, that I had had an impact. He went home and spoke about our conversation to his wife, which must have led to a broader conversation about his driving. My mobile number is on my card. She texted me and said, 'I wanted to thank you for talking to my husband about his seat belt. It is something I have been asking him to change for years. You touched his heart when you, a complete stranger, spoke to him about our children. I know that your conversation with him is what was needed to make him wear a belt. Thank you so much.'
I am still smiling! Do you think I will speak up next time to a taxi driver? Of course. Will you?
I hope this blog will encourage you to speak up to a colleague, a friend, or indeed a taxi driver, next time you see something you are not comfortable with. If we all do it, just once, we really can change behaviours, one by one.