Picking up total strangers who can snap at a seconds notice leaves drivers in a vulnerable position.
The press, media, licensing officials and the police rightly highlight the risks passengers face when using unlicensed private hire vehicles or taxis. But it’s not only unlicensed cabs that pose a risk. For example last month, March 2015, David Perry, 52, was jailed for 10 years after he attempted to rape one victim and then sexually assaulted a second whilst they slept, over a 16 months period.
But, when was the last time you saw such media coverage given to a taxi or private hire driver who was subjected to a violent attack, robbed or was subject to racist abused? Nobody should ever be subject to this type of behaviour, but sadly as drivers get behind the wheel on a daily basis they are left vulnerable and open to attack.
As I write this article it reminds me of something I experienced many years ago. Whilst I was sat outside a pub waiting to pickup a friend the passenger door flung opened and a girl jumped into the passenger seat. I tried in vain to explain that I was not a taxi and I was waiting for a friend who I’d arranged to pick up. The female was intoxicated and on a scale of merrily drunk to paralytic she was the latter. What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my life.
The girl then proceeded the hitch up her skirt and pull down her knickers. She then said that if I refused to take her home she would say I had raped her. To say I was frightened is an understatement. I took out the keys from the ignition and ran into the pub to ask the bar staff and landlady for help. They came outside and physically removed her from my vehicle and dragged her onto the pavement. After she staggered off down the street using every known profanity the landlady told me she did this all the time to get free lifts homes.
This is my experience without actually being a taxi or private hire driver and it was from my own personal experiences that led me to research the risks taxi and private hire drivers faced every time they go out on the road, including being robbed, assaulted, racism and passengers doing a runner without paying.
I started speaking to a number of taxi and private hire drivers and I was shocked to hear their stories. Some tell me they now clock off between 21:00 and 23:00 on a Friday or Saturday night because they feel this is a time where they are most vulnerable. It seems that they pick up passengers who have been at home drinking themselves into a legless state on cheap supermarket pub before hitting the nightclubs.
These same passengers once in the vehicle can start being sick out of the window, being loud or aggressive, all in a confined space leaving the driver in an impossible position. In situations like this does the driver pull over to a safe place and asks passengers to exit the vehicle even though he or she is in a situation where they can be outnumbered by up to 8 passengers.
So, what do you do? Continue to take the verbal abuse and the risk you could be off shift all night because someone has vomited in your vehicle or risk a potential violent confrontation on the side of the road? I don’t envy their position, but it’s about time we started talking about these real risks more.
This is obviously not a problem confined to the UK. Across the world taxi and mini-cab drivers are put in similar situations, but it seems our press and media don’t find these types of stories ‘sexy’. Searching Google and YouTube you can find hundreds of examples of assaults and stories covered by the press when the roles are reversed and its the driver under attack.
I actually found one news item in America where four girls jumped out of a cab and ran to police stating they had been sexually assaulted by the driver. Thankfully, the driver had an inboard camera and had rock-solid evidence to prove no such thing happened. The police watched the footage and no further charges were brought. The driver asked the police what would have happened if I did not have a camera? The police said he would have had to prove his innocence against four females. The driver is now suing the passengers for damaging his reputation.
This leads me perfectly onto the use of on-board cameras. Some councils are making it a compulsory part of their licence to have these types of cameras fitted. Even though theses cameras work both ways – protecting evidence for the driver and passengers – it does not prevent or stop such attacks on drivers.