Animal Defenders of Westchester

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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Risky Horseplay

NY DAILY NEWS, 1/8/06:

No road test needed for carriage license



Carriage driver and his steed clop along in heavy traffic on W. 59th St.

Getting a city license to guide a half-ton horse through the busy streets of midtown Manhattan is easier than getting a driver's license.

All it takes is a $25 money order, two passport-size photos and the ability to pass a test about the health of a horse.

But the carriage driver never has to prove he can actually steer the horse - even though those skills can mean everything to the safety of New Yorkers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the No. 1 cause of wrecks is inexperienced drivers, according to city records.

"Horses driving in the city almost have to be perfect," said Larry Chapman, a member of the board of directors of the Carriage Operators of North America. "If they move a few inches to the left or right, they are in someone else's lane," he said. "You need more critical experience than driving a car, and instead you get less training."

A startling carriage accident last week gravely injured a driver, who had little experience behind the reins, and resulted in the death of the horse. The wreck has ignited a debate over whether would-be carriage drivers should be held to similar standards as someone trying to obtain an automotive driver's license.

There are 68 licensed horse-drawn cabs with 360 licensed drivers in the city - and critics do not feel the industry has been properly safeguarded.

"This was a horrible accident, and you have to wonder why it doesn't happen more often," said ASPCA President Ed Sayres, whose group backed increased training in 2000 and is pushing for carriages to be restricted to Central Park. "The entire operation needs to be made safer."

The city requires applicants provide ID and take a $25 course offered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The course does not include time in a classroom or on the back of a carriage.

Instead, an applicant is handed a 46-page training manual and the same "Rules of the Road" booklet used for standard driver's licenses. And though the manual contains safety tips on how to steer a carriage through traffic, the bulk of it deals with the health of the horse and tips on how to combat colic, fatigue and dental problems.

After studying the manual, the applicant must watch a training video and pass two tests, which the Department of Health offers four times a year. The first is a written exam, the second a "practical" test on administering first aid to the horse. There is no driving demonstration.

In each of the past two years, about half of the 75 applicants passed the test, according to the Health Department.

"What you have is a completely flawed system ... because you have people who are not horse people who are driving," Chapman said.

The city's Horse Drawn Cab Driver license is issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs, which gets very few complaints, a spokeswoman said. Changes to the licensing requirements can only be brought about by the City Council.

"We will review any pending legislation [to change the requirements] in detail," said city Health Department spokesman Andrew Tucker.

With Kerry Burke

Originally published on January 8, 2006

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