The matter of surveillance cameras in taxis is a hot topic right now, with the government having consulted on whether it should be compulsory for all drivers in England and Wales to install CCTV in their vehicles.

The consultation, which sought views on proposed statutory guidance to taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) licensing authorities on how to use their licensing powers to protect children and vulnerable adults, has now been completed with the feedback being analysed. We can expect the outcome shortly.

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) consultation follows a review of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing in autumn 2018.

This review, which called for CCTV to be installed in all cabs, argued that it would help stop abuse of drivers and fare evasion as well as protect passengers.

The review concluded that DBS checks, while going some way to protecting the public when travelling in taxis and PHVs, are limited in their effectiveness because they “will never remove the possibility of harm to passengers by drivers”.

Here’s what the government said about CCTV:

The Department’s view is that CCTV can provide additional deterrence to prevent this and investigative value when it does.

The use of CCTV can provide a safer environment for the benefit of taxi/PHV passengers and drivers by:

  • deterring and preventing the occurrence of crime;
  • reducing the fear of crime;
  • assisting the police in investigating incidents of crime;
  • help insurance companies investigate accidents.

This latest consultation is part of assessing the impact the new rules around CCTV would have on the industry.

A silhouette of a CCTV camera that you would find in a taxi

What is the argument for making CCTV mandatory?

As we’ve already touched upon, the possible new rules are all about protecting vulnerable passengers in cabs.

Talking to the BBC, Transport minister Nusrat Ghani has said that while most taxi drivers are safe and act responsibly, there have been several cases where taxi and minicab drivers have used their position to prey on vulnerable passengers.

“These rules would make sure that drivers are fit to carry passengers, keeping people safe while stopping those with bad intentions from getting behind the wheel of a taxi or minicab.”

Not only will it deter people from seeking a taxi or PHV licence with the intent of causing harm, the government believes that CCTV will help in the early identification of drivers that exhibit inappropriate behaviour toward passengers, and even increase the level of reporting of sexual offences.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, only 17% of victims report their experiences to the police, 28% of rape or sexual assault victims indicated that a fear they would not be believed as a factor in them not reporting the crime.

The evidential benefits CCTV could provide are therefore an important factor when considering CCTV in vehicles.

As well as providing additional protection for passengers, CCTV would also have benefits for the drivers themselves.

Taxi drivers have to deal with their fair share of difficult customers. It often stems from working unsociable hours, when people are perhaps not on their best behaviour.

Having a CCTV system installed has been shown to reduce threats and violence, by making passengers think twice about their behaviour.

They know that if they do act out of place they could potentially be prosecuted for it, which could have a huge impact on their future driving career.

A black cab taxi driving through London

What is the argument against making CCTV mandatory?

The argument for not pursuing compulsory CCTV in taxis is weaker, many would suggest, and centres on cost.

As per the proposed statutory guidance, licensing authorities will be responsible for the data (the CCTV footage and audio).

This additional responsibility as a data controller could increase their costs, at a time when funding levels are in decline.

A Local Government Association spokesman urged government to “ensure that licensing authorities can recover the costs of proportionate compliance and enforcement activity linked to these recommendations… from driver and operator fees.”

There’s also the cost to taxi companies of fitting a CCTV system in each of its vehicles.

Although you could argue this would be recouped over time due to drivers experiencing fewer passenger incidents, but the initial outlay would be significant.

As per the government’s Impact Assessment, CCTV Installation costs are estimated at £608 per vehicle. The total discounted cost of installing CCTV is £305.85m.

There’s also an issue around privacy and data protection. The DfT said any CCTV systems fitted in taxis would have to be encrypted, and footage only accessed by relevant authorities if a crime was reported.

“It is essential to ensure that all recordings made are secure and can only be accessed by those with legitimate grounds to do so,” the proposed guidelines state. “This would normally be the police if investigating an alleged crime or the licensing authority if investigating a complaint or data access request.”

It adds that all passengers must be made aware when CCTV is in operation, with clear signage and prior warning during the booking process.

Three taxis pulling out of a busy London junction

How likely is it that CCTV will be made mandatory?

It’s difficult to say at this point in time. But the fact that the proposals have made it this far would suggest it’s quite likely.

For lots of taxi companies, the new rules would not affect them a great deal.

Many have already installed CCTV cameras for their own driver and passenger protection, but they’re only mandatory under a small number of licensing authorities in the UK – about 3% last year.

There have been some notable objections to the notion of making CCTV mandatory in taxis.

In response to the government’s consolation, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner said that blanket use of CCTV recording in taxis and private hire vehicles would be disproportionate and should be imposed only where a strong justification exists.

While the commissioner felt that the blanket requirement for taxis in Rotherham to have CCTV installed – imposed after some drivers were involved in the town’s child sexual exploitation scandal – had been on the basis of “persuasive evidence”, there should not be “widespread installation of CCTV in taxis without well-evidenced justifications”.

Audio recording of passengers’ private conversations, in particular, “is extremely intrusive and requires strong justification,'' the response said.

Should the new rules be imposed, local authorities must complete a data protection impact assessment prior to requiring installation of CCTV in taxis, the Commissioner notes, and have consulted their data protection officer and legal teams.

He added that there must also be a facility to switch off recording when the vehicle is being used for the driver’s private purposes.

So, it’s far from a case of just installing the cameras and switching them on.

A taxi driver looking happy behind the wheel of his taxi

What are the laws around vehicle camera systems?

Capturing a person’s movements on camera is intrusive and, therefore, subject to strict data protection and human rights laws.

The law sets out that companies have to carefully consider the privacy implications before implementing any type of CCTV or surveillance system into their fleet.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the independent regulatory office in charge of upholding information rights in the interest of the public, recently wrote a blog on the use of continuous CCTV in taxis.

The article – which was directed towards councils but has relevance for taxi firms, too – warned against CCTV that operate continuously.

It points out that cameras that are operational when a vehicle’s engine is running will capture drivers when they’re picking up their children from school, taking the family shopping or driving to holiday in another part of the country. “Taxi drivers, like all of us, have a right to privacy,” it stresses. “And that right is enshrined in law.”

The ICO highlights how the law states that the processing of personal data should be necessary for its purpose and proportionate.

So, filming a taxi driver in their own time is “likely to be unlawful, unfair and excessive under data protection legislation and in breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.”

In additional to the Human Rights Act, taxi firms will have to familiarise themselves with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an EU-wide data privacy law came into force in 2018.

Under GDPR, vehicle fleets with camera systems will need to ensure they stay compliant. The maximum fine under the GDPR is up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 million – whichever is greater – for organisations that infringe its requirements.

A camera lens with surveillance written around the rim

How to stay compliant with GDPR

Laws such as GDPR might put taxi companies off from installing CCTV systems in their vehicles – despite the obvious benefits that come with fitting cameras – for fear of not remaining compliant.

As Fleet Focus points out, however, GDPR compliance for vehicle fleets with camera systems is actually straightforward – it’s just a matter of respecting privacy, protecting data and making sure those being recorded are aware.

The dash cam experts provide a compliance checklist to give firms the confidence to go ahead and set up CCTV systems in their vehicles. Here it is:

 

  1. Make everyone aware

We’ve covered this earlier already to some extent.

Not only do you need to invest in some vehicle signage to ensure all passengers are aware that CCTV is in operation, you should first speak with your drivers to consult with how comfortable they are with cameras being fitted into their vehicles.

Once all the details have been discussed and agreed, inform them that you will be producing a policy document for clarification.

 

  1. Consider the need

Before installing cameras in your taxi fleet, consider how much you really need them.

You must be able to justify why you’ve got them i.e. for the safety of the driver or the public; the security of goods; or prevention of false or unfair insurance claims.

If you don’t experience many issues with your drivers or passengers, you might be able to save yourself some money by resisting for the time being.

 

  1. Think about file storage

If you’re planning on recording footage – as opposed to just having ‘dummy’ cameras – you’ll need to think about storing the data securely.

The DfT has said any CCTV systems would have to be encrypted, only allowing footage to be accessed by relevant authorities if a crime was reported.

 

  1. Film at the right times

As we’ve already mentioned, you’ll need to ensure that footage is not recorded in private areas of the vehicle, during rest times and in drivers’ own personal time.

 

  1. Let drivers access their data

Drivers must know how they can obtain footage and data held about them. So, ensure they’re informed from the outset about where to go to get any information about them.

 

  1. Report any breaches

Should you experience a data breach, where personal information is accessed by an unauthorised person(s), it must be reported to the ICO within 72 hours or you could be subject to a fine.

 

Get your taxi fleet insurance

A lit up taxi light on-top of a taxi

So, the question of whether to install cameras in your taxi fleet is open for you to answer – at least until it becomes mandatory. One thing that is already compulsory to obtain is taxi fleet insurance cover.

It’s important that you find the right policy to match the volume and requirements of the vehicles which are part of your fleet.

Taxi fleet insurance is available to fleets of three or more vehicles.

It doesn’t matter if you have a fleet of black cabs, minicabs, minibuses, or a mix of vehicles – Taxi Insurer can help you find a policy that matches all your needs and covers all of the vehicles in your fleet, for a price that fits.

Taxi fleet insurance might also include driver cover, depending on the age and experience of the driver.

With only one policy to remember to renew each year, you can put all your effort into making your taxi business a success.

Getting a taxi fleet insurance quote that fits with your business requirements is easy with Taxi Insurer.

Get a no-obligation taxi fleet insurance quote today.

icon-phone