RULES are set to be tightened up to stop dodgy taxi drivers getting behind the wheel in Sunderland.
Cabinet members at Sunderland City Council have agreed to the start of a consultation process into new guidance relating to the licensing of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles.
The draft document will assist the council’s regulatory committee when making licensing decisions as the existing guidelines do not reflect the full range of current driving offences.
“The guidelines deal with situations where applicants or existing licensees have been convicted of an offence on one or more occasions,” the draft document states.
The move comes after the council faced criticism after serial driving offender and cabbie David Baillie knocked down and killed 17-year-old Sarah Jane Burke in Ormonde Street, in September 2013.
If approved, the new guidelines do not necessarily mean that someone like Baillie would have been denied the licence he obtained just days before he killed Sarah.
But it will mean that relevant convictions, including those classified as spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and especially repeat offending, can be taken into account in determining where an applicant is “a fit and proper person”, with the overriding consideration being the protection of the public.
Under the draft document, Baillie is also highly unlikely to ever be granted a licence again once he is out of jail, as someone causing death by dangerous driving, “will normally never be granted and any existing licence would be revoked” under the proposals. Although, the document adds that “exceptional circumstances” will be decided on “a case-by case basis”.
Members of the council’s regulatory committee will also have to consider the moral implications of their decision, by answering the question: “Would you, as a member of the committee charged with the ability to grant, suspend or revoke a hackney carriage or private hire driver’s licence, allow your son, daughter, spouse, partner, mother, father, grandson, granddaughter or any other vulnerable person for whom you care, to get into a vehicle with this person alone?”
Cabinet secretary Mel Speding said: “We’ve put for consultation something that we have been working on for quite a while now. It’s a consultation into who should have a taxi licence and who shouldn’t. We are very keen to understand what the public perceive this to be. But we have to bear in mind that we’ve got government regulations we’ve got to follow. We have a situation that is quasi-judicial when it comes to licensing. We’ve got certain parameters we have got to meet.
“This stage is to go out to the public to say ‘look this is what we are doing, what do you think about it?’ and hopefully we’ll come up with a plan to ensure public safety.”
Road safety charity Brake said it welcomed any move to improve safety, especially among those driving professionally.
“As a charity that supports bereaved families and road crash victims, we welcome any measure that will ensure professional drivers are safe to be on our roads,” spokesman Dave Nichols said. “We need to make sure drivers are clear that if they continually flout the law and put people’s lives in danger, they can no longer make a living from driving on our roads.
“Too many drivers are let off with grossly inadequate penalties for driving offences, which sends a message that these are minor infringements, rather than serious crimes that can result in needless suffering and loss of life. Through our crackdown campaign, we are calling for tougher charges and penalties for driving offences, including longer bans.”