Asleep at the Wheel

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Asleep at the Wheel

After seeing the recent call to limit taxi drivers’ hours, it had me harking back to my own time as a driver and I think it’s a very sensible idea. However, the notion of taking breaks every couple of hours is both impractical and unnecessary.

I worked as a taxi driver while I was at college and in my first year at university, so from experience I know that there are plenty of peaks and troughs during the day. You get a rest when it’s quiet – compulsory breaks would get in your way when it’s busy and wouldn’t be needed when it’s quiet.

However, I would frequently pull double shifts from around 7:30am through until 2:00am or later the folling day, and by the end of the late shift I’d be really struggling to keep my eyes open. I know of drivers who started earlier and worked later than I did, though, as the firm we worked for was always looking for folk to start a bit earlier or work a bit later to provide cover.

Back then, as is the case at the time of writing, there was no accountability or regulation on the part of the firm in this regard. They did not have to log the hours that drivers worked, and a driver who ended up in an accident due to over tiredness would ultimately take the brunt of the consequences.

As a taxi driver you’re highly likely to be self-employed, working for the company that provides the car, and reporting your own earnings to the tax man at the end of the year. So on that basis it’s very difficult to say no when you’re being encouraged to work excessive hours. Sometimes, working that extra hour at night can yield the kind of return that takes two or three hours to bring in earlier in the day when the tarrif is lower.

Being encouraged to working extra hours here and there happens regardless of the industry or profession, though. As I found out at the cost of my health earlier this year, there are employers that would rather turn a blind eye to regulatory guidelines – and even the law – when it’s in their own interests to squeeze every last drop out of you. At least as a taxi driver you’re earning money those additional hours, not burning yourself out for the same salary you’d get if you stuck rigidly to your contracted hours.

Which leaves me thinking; if companies that are supposed to log the hours employees put in can dance around the regulations, what chance do taxi firms have of enforcing strict limits on working hours when their staff consists of self-employed drivers?

A driver could easily do an 8 hour shift for one firm and then pull another shift for a different company. Each company would be in the clear, yet the risk they’re trying to minimise remains the same – over tired drivers having preventable accidents.

Personally, I don’t see a way around either situation unless the onus is on employees to log the hours they work and submit that data independantly to the government. Your earnings, your hours worked, your hourly rate, tax owed, national insurance paid – that kind of thing would be easily derived from that kind of system.

And at the opposite ends of the scale, it would deter nasty employers from working people to death, and it would reduce the risk created by those intent on working themselves to death.