Familiarity with the roads is essential


A recent announcement by the Department of Transport said that there would be a further £1.3 million to spend on repairing potholes in Oxfordshire during “the next financial year.”  In a press release, it sounds like a good thing, especially in winter, but amounts like that are hard enough to conceptualise and it is much easier to focus on something local and somewhere we know.  

Iffley Road, Oxford

Iffley Road, Oxford

An Abingdon taxi driver will know instinctively, when turning right to enter the triangle of streets making up Abingdon town centre, to bear right and to keep right, to avoid the deep hole on the left hand side of the carriageway, above the culvert which carries the River Stert underneath Stert Street. It has been opened up by recent bad weather and would undoubtedly cause damage, if hit at the wrong angle and speed. The location of the potholes in Abingdon becomes imprinted upon the memory of the professional driver, plying for hire on the same roads day after day and week after week, from sheer familiarity.  

So too do the locations where law enforcement officials wait, to spot cyclists without lights, red light jumpers and motorists on their phones, amongst other misdemeanours.   

Most of the time the spotter can be seen in advance of the stop location not in uniform, for obvious reasons. On one occasion, at the usual location in Abingdon, I must have been observed not wearing a seat belt. Having established by reference to the registration plate on the back of the vehicle and roof light on top that I was a licensed Hackney Carriage driver, driving a licensed Hackney Carriage, within the district council area I am licensed for, I was allowed to go about my lawful business. 

For there are a number of exemptions in law and Hackney Carriage drivers plying for or answering a call for hire, or carrying a passenger, do not have to wear a seat belt.  Private hire drivers are only exempt when carrying passengers. 

One Saturday night, I had collected a passenger from the middle of nowhere,  off the A420. We travelled back toward Abingdon in the dark and although he did not say anything in the classic English manner, I could sense he was uneasy about me not wearing a seat belt. We had a polite discussion about it, I explained I wasn’t doing anything illegal. Nonetheless, it was necessary to ask him directly “Sir, would you like me to wear the seat belt?” as he appeared unwilling or unable to vocalise his views.  I happily did, for the rest of the journey.  

Mostly, I do wear it for long journeys, but tend not to when operating within Abingdon, as I am frequently getting out of the taxi, to assist passengers with reduced mobility, carry shopping and other acts of service, to help make people’s daily lives a bit easier. 

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt, but when plying for hire on the roads of Oxfordshire, familiarity is essential for business survival.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 01 February 2017

  1. Calls for action to tackle road defects on National Pothole Day, Abingdon Herald, 17 January 2017
  2. Are there any exemptions to wearing a seatbelt?
  3. Question 332, Police National Legal Database, as consulted 25 January 2017