Covid-19 death toll for professional drivers reached 209 in 2020, ONS data reveals, while drivers are still dying in 2021

covid deaths

The death toll from Covid-19 for taxi drivers, private hire drivers and chauffeurs passed 200 in 2020, and the occupation continues to be one of the most high-risk, with a death rate for male drivers more than three times higher than the national average.

According to new Office for National Statistics data, 209 male drivers died from coronavirus between March 9 and December 28, 2020 a death rate of 101.4 per 100,000 people employed in the sector. This is far worse than the national average: across England and Wales there were 31.4 deaths per 100,000 men of the working population (age 20-64), and 16.8 deaths per 100,000 women.

Almost two-thirds (64.4%) of working-age people who died were men. Of the 7,961 coronavirus-related deaths of working-age people, 5,128 were male.

Only men in the restaurant and catering trade, care workers and people involved in factory work were at higher risk, and in overall numbers, only care workers (male and female) have suffered more deaths than drivers. Including bus, coach and van drivers, 389 people with driving jobs lost their lives through Covid-19 in 2020.

Ben Humberstone, ONS head of health analysis and life events, said: “Jobs with regular exposure to Covid-19 and those working in close proximity to others continue to have higher Covid-19 death rates when compared with the rest of the working age population.”

The data shows that the death rate for drivers has slowed significantly following the introduction of improved safety measures, including the use of PPE, deep cleaning and protective screens. Earlier data showed 134 drivers died from March 9 to May 26, which means 75 drivers have lost their lives in the seven months between May 27 and December 28.

Drivers are continuing to die from Covid-19. Last week a funeral convoy of taxis drove through Porthcawl in Wales in honour of 60-year-old Robert Newcombe, a popular driver with local firm Driven Taxis, who died on January 14 of coronavirus at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.

The scene was repeated in Middlesbrough (pictured above), where drivers honoured veteran Boro Taxis driver John Tunmore by following the funeral cortege through the streets. Known as “Geordie John”, he’d been a driver for more than 30 years, and died on January 19, age 53.

And on January 25, 63-year-old Rafique Meah, who had worked for Nottingham Cars for 30 years, died just eight days after testing positive for the virus.

The latest statistics will back up calls for the Government to do more for at-risk drivers, including priority vaccinations – the subject of a recent demand by taxi trade bodies to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – and mandatory installation of screens.

Local licensing authorities – notably Transport for London – continue to insist on onerous and unnecessary testing before screens are approved. Others, like the wilfully negligent Wolverhampton Council, refuse to sanction their installation.

Trade unions reacted angrily to the news. Dan Shears, GMB national health, safety and environment director, said: “The deaths of eight thousand working age people is a devastating and bitter milestone that could have been avoided. The truth is that the UK was too slow to respond to the outbreak in workplaces.”

He continued: “Workers are still being forced to use inadequate PPE, and some people are attending work despite being infectious because they cannot afford to self-isolate. These are structural problems that could have been fixed months ago.”

The British Occupational Hygiene Society, the leading scientific charity and the Chartered Society for worker health protection, also expressed concern about the ONS data.

“People are dying unnecessarily, because there is still insufficient understanding of occupational hygiene measures that can prevent the spread of this disease,” said BOHS president Kelvin Williams, who chairs the Society’s COVID-19 expert group.

“The knowledge is available, but not all areas of the public sector and government seem to be using it. We see excess deaths in other public-facing occupations, such as restaurant and catering managers, bus, coach and taxi drivers, which shows there is more to do to protect them from obvious risk,” He added.