No Country for Old Men

(Original edit of latest article for Taxi magazine)


The Mayor of London wants to restrict the age of taxis to twelve years or fewer, and a new delicensing scheme has been brought in. Drivers can benefit from a modest windfall if they act quickly to scrap their cabs and go electric. In January, the car accident involving the Duke of Edinburgh started a conversation on ageing drivers. Does age matter, or is it time to bring in a scrappage scheme for drivers too?

Also in January there was the story of the taxi mechanic who was tragically killed when the cab he was driving collided head-on with a car driven by a seventy year-old woman coming down the A13 on the wrong side of the road. She also sadly died in the crash. Plenty of young people kill themselves on the road too though. The fact is that older drivers are safer than younger ones. Personally, I’d rather drive alongside the Duke’s Range Rover than a car driven by a millennial full of testosterone and a hat on back to front. I think most of us would. The thing is, there’s always the possibility that the boy racer might improve his driving, while the older driver’s skills are likely to deteriorate.

I’m in no position to comment upon ninety-seven year old Prince Phillip’s accident. He might well be referred to as the Duke of Hazard, and he might be known to be something of a speed demon, but this court will strike that from the record. He used to be known to drive inconspicuously around London in a Metrocab, but maybe he joined the opposition? I bet he’s slipped down the driver rankings at Uber now, mind.

Older drivers in the cab game know that we’re regularly tested by a doctor for licensing purposes. Although our eyes are tested we’re not assessed on our spacial awareness or reaction speed. Apparently, it’s easy to confuse the brake and accelerator in an automatic. Still, a person’s age is no more an indicator of competence any more than a vehicle’s age. Both can be looked after to run well into old age. Even a TX2.

Every man thinks he’s the best driver in the world (and it is always men who think like this. A driving instructor friend assures me that women are better drivers). My wife still reminds me of the shame she felt when I reversed off our driveway and demolished a Northampton Borough recycling crate. I don’t think I’ve ever remember confusing the brake and accelerator pedals, but I regularly confuse the heating switches. More than once I’ve thought I’ve switched the air-con on only to realise I’d heated the rear window instead. I suppose that’s where it starts? Forgetting hotels and street names too, come to think of it.

Should the government or TfL scrap drivers, this will cut new blood coming into the trade to a trickle. The taxi trade would literally die of old age. No, I’d start with more privileged groups first. As the debate has already been opened concerning the Duke, how about a scrappage scheme for the royal family? There’s plenty of new blood, so we can afford to put some of the older ones out to pasture. Once Brexit is out of the way, we could start a debate on scrapping the House of Lords. It’s little more than a museum for living dinosaurs, and some of them have undoubtedly had it too good for too long.

Looking around, you see few young people in driving jobs. They’re sensibly doing other things, usually sat in the warm. Driving in our cities has become more challenging and frustrating over the years; most notably in London, and particularly in the last few years thanks to crazy road re-modelling schemes. People see the traffic in London and it puts them off considering driving there professionally. It’s very expensive in fuel and parking; and even if you keep moving, most motorists are subject to ever-changing congestion and emission charges. Then again, for us; if driving in London was easy, and everyone could park where they liked at a fair price, our job would barely exist. I could have a quieter life applying for the Knowledge of Leighton Buzzard – assuming there is such a test in my own town – but I wouldn’t fancy sitting on the same rank for an hour or so between jobs, and I’d miss out on the sightseeing opportunities too. No, I’d rather take my chances on the roads of London.

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