Preston taxis: Call for lifetime ban for cab drivers if convicted of causing death by dangerous or careless driving

Councillors have claimed that a new rule dictating how long it should be before Preston taxi drivers can reapply for their licence if they have been convicted of causing someone's death on the roads is “too lenient”.

Saturday, 1st January 2022, 11:38 am

It comes after Preston City Council revised its Hackney and private hire licensing policy, setting out how much time must usually have elapsed between convictions for a raft of different offences and the point at which a taxi licence could once again be granted. The guidance also covers those applying to become a taxi driver for the first time.

The authority has toughened up this key aspect of its licensing regime across the board, with the duration of effective bans increased for all stipulated transgressions.

For instance, the previous three-year timeframe before an application would be considered from anyone convicted of using a handheld device at the wheel has gone up to five, while convictions for violent offences will now generally earn a driver a decade-long ban from taxiing compared to one of five years under the last policy.

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Preston City Council has set out how much time should elapse between a current or prospective taxi drier being convicted of a criminal offence and them being able to hold a licence to operate in the city

However, it is the time period that has been set in the case of a driver found guilty of causing death by either dangerous or careless driving that has sparked controversy.

The new policy states that seven years would ordinarily have to have passed before a taxi licence could be issued to a driver with such a conviction. Under the previous regime, no timeframe was suggested - and any application in those circumstances would have been subject to consideration by the council’s taxi and miscellaneous committee whenever it was made.

The seven-year wait for a Preston taxi driver to obtain a licence if they have a record for causing death by dangerous or careless driving brings Preston into line with a recommendation made by the independent Institute for Licensing.

The Department for Transport - which offers suggested ban durations to be imposed on cab drivers for various other crimes - does not make any recommendation for these two road-related offences, which are separate crimes in law.

Veteran private hire driver Stephen Parkinson believes taxi drivers should be given a second chance after seven years if they once had a fatal accident - but only in some circumstances

Causing death by dangerous driving can lead to a maximum prison sentence of 14 years and careless driving a jail term of up to five years.

Preston’s taxi licensing policy states that previous offending can be “considered as a predictor in determining future behaviour”, but notes that the greater the time since an offence has been committed, "the more likely the individual will desist from crime”.

However, the city council's Liberal Democrat group leader, John Potter, believes that if a taxi driver is convicted of taking someone’s life in a road accident as a result of their own recklessness, then the starting point should be that they never drive a cab in Preston again.

“If you have killed one or multiple people by dangerous driving - which you can get 14 years in jail for - we are saying that, after seven years, you can get a taxi licence. Imagine it was your loved one in the cab with them - how would you feel?

Riaz Qadeer, secretary of the RMT union's Preston branch for the Hackney trade, says a lifetime ban for a taxi driver after a fatal accident would be "very hard"

“I’m all for forgiveness and giving people second chances, but it just feels like this is so lenient, that it is out of step with everything else [in the policy]. I’ve talked to friends and family about it and I would say that 99 percent of people [agree] that this is way too lenient.

“If there are exceptional circumstances, you can always apply again anyway - and it doesn’t restrict your opportunities to find employment in other occupations. But, for me, seven years just doesn't sit right - it should certainly be tougher,” said Cllr Potter.

He says he made that point at the taxi and miscellaneous committee on which he sits, but was voted down. The cross-party group was consulted on the new policy before it was recently approved by the city council’s cabinet.

There are several offences which would attract effective lifetime bans for Preston’s taxi drivers under the policy - including sexual offences and any non road-related crime that results in a person's death.

Hackney and private hire cab drivers operating in Preston will be governed by a new licensing policy which will determine whether they are "fit and proper" to work in that role

Conservative opposition group leader Sue Whittam said that she, too, was concerned that drivers convicted of causing death by dangerous or careless driving could get a licence again in the city so soon.

“Seven years doesn't seem like a massive amount of time - and we’ve got to make sure that people are protected. We have got to be absolutely sure that whoever gets a taxi licence won't reoffend, because that would be absolutely terrible.

“We could have said a minimum of seven years [and then consider applications] on a case-by-case basis, because you don't know the circumstances of what's happened,” said Cllr Whittam.

The new policy does state that applicants with prior convictions will be considered on their own merits and some discretion may be appropriate if their offence was isolated and there were mitigating circumstances.

Labour cabinet member for planning and regulation David Borrow said that a widespread consultation with the taxi trade and the public had been carried out on the proposed changes to the licensing policy in order to inform the cabinet's decision on the matter.

“In terms of the consultation responses, about 90 percent were happy with what was recommended," Cllr Borrow said.

Specifically in relation to the issue of a taxi driver convicted of causing death by dangerous or careless driving, he continued: “[After seven years], an application would go to the council’s officers to deal with. There could be other things that have happened [in the meantime] - all sorts of stuff could be there on the record.

“But if someone had an accident seven, eight or nine years before and nothing has happened [since], the presumption has got to be that it shouldn't stop them getting their licence back.

“I think there comes a point where you've got to say that you can't hold it over someone's head indefinitely.

“But Cllr Potter, or any other councillors on the taxi committee, could have rung me up or emailed me [about their concerns]. I had quite an extensive discussion the day before cabinet made the decision [in order] to pull everything together - and a number of members did contact me over the weeks before with particular views and I had a number of conversations,” said Cllr Borrow, who added that it was also important to have regard to the principle of “spent punishment”.

The law states that some convictions can be considered “spent” - and so wiped from an individual’s record - after a certain period of time. That point comes five years after convictions where driving bans have been imposed - unless the ban itself lasts longer than five years - and after seven years in cases where a prison sentence of between 30 and 48 months has been imposed for the crime. Convictions where custodial sentences of longer than 48 months have been handed out are never spent.

Cllr John Browne, deputy Labour chair of the taxi and miscellaneous committee, led the meeting back in November where the group discussed any recommendations they wanted to make to cabinet about the proposed new policy.

Responding to criticism of the majority decision of the committee not to suggest altering the period before someone could apply for a taxi licence after a conviction for causing death by dangerous or careless driving, Cllr Browne said that the seven-year timeframe settled upon did not mean that someone will automatically be granted a licence after that time has elapsed.

“All it means is they can reapply after seven years if they want to. [Whether they are given a licence] depends on how they present and what they might have done in the way of any reparations.

“Every case has to be looked at [in terms of] how somebody may have altered their lives or [in view of] extenuating circumstances. You've got to look at each case and then make a judgement,” Cllr Browne said.

‘SOME PEOPLE DESERVE A SECOND CHANCE’

Two senior members of the taxi trade in Preston told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that they would not want to see a blanket lifetime ban on drivers getting back behind the wheel of a cab in the city if they had accidentally killed somebody on the roads.

Stephen Parkinson, who has worked as a private hire driver for more than 20 years, says that he has “not an ounce of sympathy” with anybody who has claimed a life as a result of drink or drug driving or using a handheld device while they were in control of a vehicle.

However, he added: “If anyone has had an accident where they weren’t intoxicated or using their phone - and it was misfortune on their part - then we all learn by our mistakes. So I do think you should be given a chance [in those circumstances], because in seven years or more they will have learned from it, hopefully.

“For anyone who’s had an accident that has killed someone, [where it] wasn't premeditated or [reckless] - just [say] where they have pulled out and unfortunately a person died from their injuries - I have got slight sympathy,” Stephen said.

Riaz Qadeer, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union’s branch secretary for the Hackney trade in Preston, said he would rather the seven-year timeframe before someone convicted of causing death by dangerous or careless driving had been set at five.

“My personal view is that this [sort of] incident can happen to anybody - it’s not like [killing] somebody purposely.

“I think seven years is too long. I’m thinking like a normal human being - after you make a mistake you do realise and you try to correct yourself.

“I think five years is [long enough] punishment - and you can't treat everybody the same. For example, if I'm driving in a 40 mile-per-hour zone and a group [of people] come out in front of me and somebody is killed, does that mean I will be banned for life?

“I think it would be very hard and not fair with [those] who are actually genuine people living a normal family life,” Riaz added.

The seven-year effective ban on holding a taxi licence in Preston after such an accident would only be enforced if the driver was subsequently convicted of causing an individual’s death as a result of their dangerous or careless driving.

‘WOULD YOU ALLOW YOUR RELATIVES IN A CAR WITH THIS PERSON?’

Preston City Council’s new Hackney and private hire licensing policy has put in place a framework designed to make using taxis in the city as safe as possible.

The authority has set out its own “fit and proper person” criteria that an individual must fulfil in order to be issued a licence - a test which is not specified in law.

Those involved in making licensing decisions will be expected to consider whether, based on the information before them, they would “allow a person for whom [they] care, regardless of their condition, to travel alone in a vehicle driven by this person at any time of day or night”.

If, on the balance of probabilities, they would not do so, then the individual should not be allowed to hold a licence - and applicants and licence holders should not be given “the benefit of the doubt”.

Also under the new policy, drivers must notify the city council within 48 hours if they are arrested, charged or convicted of any motoring, sexual, violent or dishonesty offence - and must subscribe to the Disclosure and Barring Service’s online update system in order to fulfil the nationwide requirement for licensed drivers to undergo a criminal records check every six months.

Six-monthly inspections of taxi vehicles will continue in Preston, in spite of national regulations demanding only annual checks.

The authority also considered whether to introduce a requirement for CCTV in taxis, but decided against it, noting that it would require “strong justification”. The RMT union was opposed to the move, although a majority of consultation respondents from both the Hackney and private hire trades were in favour.

The city council acknowledged that having cameras in cabs would provide “additional deterrence to prevent problems and assist investigations” and pledged to keep the matter under review.

OFF THE ROAD

This is how much time it is now recommended must elapse before a taxi licence will be granted by Preston City Council to drivers convicted of:

Minor traffic offences totalling 7 or more DVLA licence points - 5 years (previously no restriction)

Major motoring offences - 7 years, or 5 years for using a handheld device (previously 3 years)

Causing death by careless or dangerous driving - 7 years (previously referred to taxi committee for consideration whenever application made)

Drunkenness in a motor vehicle - 7 years (previously 3 years since restoration of driving licence)

Drugs possession - 5 years plus drug test (previously 3 years)

Drugs supply - 10 years (previously 5 years)

Serious sexual crimes or Indecency - never* (previously referred to taxi committee for consideration)

Violent offences - 10 years for all offences involving violence against the person (previously 5 years)

Possession of a weapon or any weapon-related offence – 7 years

Dishonesty offences - 7 years (previously 3 years)

Crimes resulting in death - never (previously not in policy)

Exploitation - never (previously not in policy)

Taxi or private hire vehicle use offences – 7 years (previously not in policy)

Discrimination offences - 7 years (previously not in policy)

*A licence will also not be granted to any applicant who is currently on the Sex Offending Register or on any ‘barred list’.