More taxi drivers will lose their badges for five years if they are convicted of using their mobile phone while operating their cabs as licensing authorities update their safety policies.

The latest move is part of new safety measures brought in by Sefton Council and is in addition to any punishment issued by courts. This includes the automatic six penalty points and a £200 fine all drivers face for using a hand-held phone, sat nav, tablet, or any device that can send and receive data while driving or riding a motorcycle. This includes drivers waiting in traffic or stopped at traffic lights.

The penalties are much more severe for taxi and PHV drivers because it means they are unable to continue working in the licensing authority and details of their ban will be shared with other authorities.

Severe penalties

Sefton Council Licensing and Regulatory Committee introduced three new offences when it updated its Licensed Driver Convictions Policy last month. The Liverpool Echo reports that as well as the sanctions drivers face if they are convicted of using a hand-held device while driving, any driver convicted of discrimination or exploitation “would have their taxi badge permanently revoked and prevented from ever working as a taxi driver”.

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Sefton’s update follows other licensing authorities across the Liverpool City Region who are working to “standardise conditions” for the area’s taxi drivers and passengers. The changes have already been introduced by Wirral, Knowsley and Liverpool councils.

While the tough stance against discrimination and exploitation are entirely understandable, the situation regarding mobile phones can be less clear-cut, especially for taxi and PHV drivers who use electronic devices for bookings.

Exceptions

This point was made by Hackney and Private Hire Trade representatives on behalf of taxi and PHV drivers licensed by Sefton Council.

They said an immediate five-year ban was “unnecessarily harsh and unclear as some drivers may be punished for tapping their phone while managing booking APPs”.

They accepted that a ban is reasonable for drivers accepting calls with a phone in their hand but argued that it should not be immediate. Instead, they called for cases to go straight to mediation, where a ban would be considered, rather than being automatically imposed by the licensing authority.

However, the council said its hands were tied by the DfT’s Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards 2020, which emphasises that authorities must “use their licensing powers to protect children and vulnerable adults” and that any exception to the guidelines at local level – including a five-year ban for using a hand-held mobile device – must be predicated on a “compelling local reason”.

National standards

While the committee considered the H&PH Trade submission, it did not believe there were sufficient grounds to go against Government policy. Committee members also acknowledged that there are caveats to the convictions policy that included options for mediation, where appropriate.

And, while serious and repeat offenders deserve to have the book thrown at them, the guidance establishes a process in which drivers can defend allegations made against them. It says: “It is accepted that offences can be committed unintentionally, and a single occurrence of a minor traffic offence may not necessitate the revocation of a taxi or private hire vehicle driver licence, providing the authority considers that the licensee remains a fit and proper person to retain a licence.”

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This would give drivers the opportunity to explain that they were acknowledging a booking, for example, so that a vulnerable passenger wasn’t left on their own, worrying whether their taxi would arrive.

While accepting there may be exceptions, the report by Sefton Council said: “There is a risk that the council could be open to challenge if the new statutory guidance is not followed without sufficient justification.

“Adhering to the new statutory guidance will mitigate against any challenge to the council’s licensing regime.”

Introducing tough penalties helps improve safety and raises standards across the industry. On the occasion when there has been a genuine lapse or mistake, there are opportunities for drivers to explain themselves, rather than automatically ending their driving careers.

Information correct at time of publication. Information provided within this article may have changed over time. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by John Patons Insurance Services or any of its employees.