To be a cabby is a cumbersome role when considering all the superfluous laws and restrictions that go with the job. Since the time of Queen Anne, the humble Hackney carriage has attracted the most legislation, totaling over 37 Acts, many of which are still in force.
One thing many passengers may not be aware of is it is actually illegal to hail a taxi cab in motion. A taxi should only be approached at its allotted place – the taxi rank, in which no other vehicle is allowed to park. The rank itself, is required to have a water trough for horses to drink.
Perhaps more relevant to the world today, and the global pandemic, is that a cabby is supposed to check whether a passenger, prior to getting into the taxi, is suffering from any ‘notifiable disease such as smallpox or the plague’. A medical examination should be carried out by the cabby because carrying a ‘sufferer’ is illegal, as is carrying corpses (or rabid dogs!) if the passenger happens to die en route.
It is also the cabby’s responsibility to ensure nothing is left behind by the passenger by carrying out a thorough search of the vehicle before allowing the passenger to leave.
The law requiring taxis to ‘carry a bale of hay on its roof for horses and nosebags on the side of the cab or a sack of oats’ has since been repealed as of 1976.
It is however still illegal for a cabby to drive too slowly (loitering), too quickly (furious driving) or make insulting gestures!
And we have all heard the rumour, but it is actually a cabby who is permitted to pee in public so long as they do so on the rear wheel of the cab with his hand touching the vehicle. This is because cabbies were not allowed to leave their vehicle on a public highway – even to pee! Quite how today’s female cabbies manage this is perhaps more the intrigue!
Since the Locomotives Act 1865, it is illegal for any vehicle, unless animal powered, to not be preceded by a man on foot carrying a red flag at a distance of not less than 60 yards. The vehicle must not travel at more than 2mph in towns and 4mph in the country. It was in 1896 that poor Walter Arnold of Kent became the first person prosecuted for speeding in a built up area at the top speed of 8mph having been pursued by a policeman on a bike! He was fined one shilling.
And there is no law preventing a person from flying.
When the Judge asked Jane Wellman of Gloucester in the Seventeenth Century – who was on trial for the charge of witchcraft – whether she could fly she answered “Yes, my lord”
“Well, then” said Mr Justice Powell “You may. There is no law against flying”.
At the Judge’s direction she was found not guilty of witchcraft despite her confession.