The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation on proposed enhancements to criminal record checks for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers.
The new licensing guidelines have been designed to protect “the most vulnerable in our society”, and by extension all passengers. In addition, the consultation will consider whether cabs and private hire vehicles need to be fitted with CCTV.
It follows a government report released last year that shows current laws regulating drivers are not “fit for the modern world”, with powers devolved to the Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Irish Assembly.
While the guidelines would only apply to England, the DfT says its guidelines are expected to be followed in Wales until its government can adopt its own changes.
Under current rules, the power to issue licences is given to local authorities, who are tasked with determining if the applicant is a “fit and proper person”. If they are denied a licence by one authority in England and Wales, they are allowed to go work in an area where the authorities might be more relaxed on licensing.
Under the new guidelines, the DfT will set up national minimum standards for drivers and set up a licensing database allow authorities to run compliance checks against any vehicle regardless of where they are licensed. Where drivers fail to meet minimum standards, the licensing officer will be able to take action “to protect the public”.
The government is also looking at ways of preventing drivers from operating hundreds of miles from where they are licensed.
Taxis minister Nusrat Ghani commented: “While the vast majority of drivers are safe and act responsibly, we have seen too many cases where taxi and minicab drivers have used their job to prey on vulnerable people, women and children.
“These rules would make sure that drivers are fit to carry passengers, keeping people safe while stopping those with bad intentions from getting behind the wheel of a taxi or minicab.”
The consultation runs until 22 April and comes after several high-profile incidents involving taxi and private hire vehicles, including the case of John Worboys, who was convicted for carrying out a series of rapes and sexual assaults while operating as a black cab driver.