13News Now Investigates: Hazards for Hire

13News Now Laura Geller has the story

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- We've all been there: you land at the airport, hail a cab and rush to the hotel. Most of the time, we remember to buckle our seatbelts and wonder how much this is going to cost. Now, there's something new to weigh on your mind.

A Cars.com and TEGNA Media survey of thousands of vehicles found that on average, anywhere from 1-in-5 to 1-in-3 cars for hire had at least one outstanding recall.

They are dangerous recalls that have made the news, including Takata airbags that could shoot metal shrapnel when deploying, GM ignition switches that can shut the car of in mid-ride, and sticky Toyota accelerator pedals.

“As a professional driver -- someone who is driving people around for hire -- it's implicit for your customers getting into your taxicab or whatever car you're driving, that your car is safe,” Kelsey Mays with Cars.com said. “Unfortunately, if you have unfixed recalls, that just really isn't the case.”

Most cities across the country have some sort of oversight over taxis and other cars for hire, but it seems almost none of them check to see if those same vehicles have dangerous defects that need to be replaced.

In Virginia, the Department of Motor Vehicles regulates taxi cabs. For example, there are permits and insurance rules. In some cases, the DMV will alert the general public a recall has been issued, but as far as requirements for taxi cab drivers and companies to fix those recalls, there aren't any.

State law passes some of the responsibility onto each locality and allows them to create their own regulations. Those vary from city to city. We checked in with the cities of Norfolk and Newport News, where you might grab a cab at the airports.

Newport News Police say taxi cabs have a mandatory inspection each year.  The cabs are re-inspected when the certificate is transferred, becomes a new certificate in the city or when there is any change done to the vehicle. The cabs can also be re-inspected when a spot inspection has been initiated by a police officer from the city, from the airport or by the base officers, and there has been noted a concern on the inspection. Another option for re-inspection comes if the vehicle/cab is replaced. 

Newport News Police add that there is no requirement in the city code regarding recalls on vehicles, but they add the the office actively keeps up to date information on vehicle concerns.

If police are aware of a safety concern regarding an inspection that has been validated, that vehicle is placed out of service, and can no longer be used for the purpose of a taxi.

Over in Norfolk, police check for registration, properly working meters and cleanliness of the vehicle, but not if there are any recalls.

Cabbies at Norfolk International said the power is in the hands of their companies.

“We don't have a choice,” driver John Hall explained. “We're drivers. We're leasing the cars. However, it is a requirement of the company, and it is a requirement of the City of Norfolk Police Department that all cabs be inspected.”

Hall believes the cab he drives every day is safe.

“They will take care of anything that is needed to the car, and that would include recalls,” he added. “They're not checking the vehicles for the drivers, they're checking the vehicles mostly for the passengers.”

You may be wondering what the deal is for Uber and Lyft, which have become more and more popular. Both companies tell our TEGNA stations they leave the recalls up to individual drivers.

Uber did send out this notice to drivers reminding them to check their vehicles.

“Lyft drivers use their personal vehicles to drive on the platform — the same car they use in their daily lives, driving their kids to school or friends around town,” spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said in an email. “Drivers have a strong personal incentive to make sure their car is in a safe operating condition.”

We also asked Virginia State Police if any of these issues could be spotted and taken care of during the annual state inspection.

“It is not the responsibility of the inspectors to check or maintain recall issues on vehicles,” VSP Sgt. Michelle Anaya responded. “Vehicles are checked for the list of requirements needed to pass inspection. If a vehicle does not pass inspection due to something that was recalled (i.e. brake pads) then the vehicle will fail inspection and a rejection sticker will be placed.”

Checking couldn't be easier. This is a good reminder for drivers to check for your personal vehicles, as well. Click here to check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


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