TEIGNBRIDGE Council has launched a crackdown on unlicensed taxis in Newton Abbot.
Recent reports of illegal unlicensed taxis suggest that drivers are offering cut-price taxi services through social media networks.
A spokesman for the council said: "This is being done with no consideration of the dangers they are putting themselves and their passengers in."
Areas of particular concern are Newton Road and Market Street in Newton Abbot, and the council will soon be working alongside establishments to help highlight the risks of travelling in an unlicensed taxi.
The spokesman continued: "While it’s perfectly legal for friends or family members to offer late night lifts, those who operate for profit and advertise themselves are breaking the law and leaving themselves and their passengers open to all sorts of risks.
"The most obvious issue is that passengers may not know the drivers and when they seek lifts, often while drunk, they could put themselves in a dangerous position."
Licensed taxi drivers undergo enhanced Criminal Record Bureau checks every three years, regular health checks, take a DVLA taxi driver assessment test, and have been driving for over a year before getting their permit.
Their cars have to comply with higher standard vehicle inspections annually to make sure the service they offer is safe. Many of the unlicensed services being offered through Facebook or texts are from new drivers looking to make some extra money, meaning they have none of the experience, licences or security checks which are needed.
Teignbridge has evidence of drivers who have only been qualified for a few months offering their services, placing both sides at risk.
Cllr. Mike Walters, Teignbridge Executive Portfolio Holder for Corporate Services said: "This is a very disturbing trend we are seeing, and we want to put a stop to it straight away before anybody gets hurt. We are urging people to think about how they and their loved ones are getting home after a night out and we want to make them aware of the dangers.
“These drivers are often not aware of the laws they are breaking and may quite innocently be thinking they are just earning a bit of extra cash, but it’s important that they realise how serious this issue is. New drivers can face especially severe consequences, as six points means they’ll lose their licence.
“We know people are openly posting on Facebook and we have passed several people’s details on to the police, who will be taking targeted action to put a stop to this practice.”
Anyone who is caught offering taxi services without the proper licences for both driver and vehicle can face civil and criminal charges.
Drivers are instantly invalidating their insurance, meaning their vehicle and passengers are offered no legal or financial protection in the event of an accident. It can be treated by police in the same way as somebody driving without insurance.
Driving without insurance means six points on your licence, and for anyone who has been driving less than a year this will mean they instantly lose their driving licence.
People who are earning cash in hand by offering unlicensed services may also be at risk of action for not declaring the income, and if they are claiming benefits while bringing in undeclared earnings there can be severe repercussions including prosecution.
The council is working with local taxi drivers and the police to make sure that any unlicensed taxis are reported, and are hoping to clamp down on a dangerous practice which is reported to be costing licensed drivers approximately £30-50 a week in earnings.
Cllr. Kevin Lake, Teignbridge Executive Portfolio Holder for Environment and Safety added: “We know that times are hard at the moment and an offer to save some money getting home late may be tempting, what we want to do is let people know that saving a couple of pounds is not worth all the risks involved with unlicensed taxis.
“Public safety is very important to us, and we hope people will take the warning on board and make the right decisions when getting in to cars.”
Sgt. Olly Tayler from Devon and Cornwall Police in based in Newton Abbot and Chairs The Honest Truth Partnership, a region-wide multi-agency campaign to highlight road safety risks to young drivers.
He added: "It beggars belief that drivers – especially young, inexperienced ones - are openly offering these illegal taxi services. Now it’s been brought to our attention we’ll be paying very close attention to these areas.
“To any drivers tempted to do this, or people thinking of using the service, please just stop and ask yourself if it’s worth it? Is it worth risking your safety, car, insurance, licence and even your life for the sake of a few pounds? Because it really isn’t.”
Anybody concerned about unlicensed taxis can contact Teignbridge District Council on 01626 215165 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or out of hours can contact the Police on 101. If anybody is concerned for someone’s immediate safety they should contact 999.