Motor insurers expect to make great savings with the launch of the Motor Insurers' Database, which insurers and police hope will help track down the UK's one million uninsured drivers.

Insurers, police and other authorised groups will be able to access a vehicle's insurance details by entering its registration number into the database.

They hope the database, coupled with rigorous policing, will improve the UK's record for having one of the highest uninsured driving populations in Western Europe.

Programme sponsor Raymond Ellis said uninsured drivers cost the insurance industry about £400m each year in contributions to the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) and lost revenue.

“The cost of claims associated with uninsured driving is escalating year on year and has to be met by the honest motorist who has insurance cover and pays on average between £15 and £30 each year toward this cost,” Ellis said.

He said the UK's poor motor insurance record could be explained by the strong perception that uninsured driving was a “victimless crime”.

“People don't see, don't read and don't hear about people who're financially disadvantaged by an accident with an uninsured driver,” he said. We've got to get the message across that the funding comes from the people who're legitimately insured.”

The Motor Insurers' Information Centre (MIIC) chairman and Axa chief executive Andy Homer said reducing the cost of uninsured driving would enable the motor industry, which recorded losses of more than £1bn both 1998 and 1999, to stop raising premiums.

“If we could stabilise the claims costs, you can bet your bottom dollar that the UK insurance industry will offer very competitive prices,” Homer said.

The cost of claims associated with uninsured driving is escalating and insurers estimate it accounts for up to £30 of the average motorist's £350 annual premium.

The MIIC coordinated the database programme, which was launched by transport minister Lord Whitty on Monday.

It will start operating with details on the UK's 22 million individually insured vehicles next autumn.

By autumn 2002 all six million UK fleet and commercial vehicles will be on the database.

MICC director and Lloyd's Motor Underwriters Association chief executive Roger Jones agreed it was vital to stop the ever-increasing number of uninsured drivers in the UK if the motor insurance industry was to make a profit.

The database will help bring the UK into line with the European Union directive on motor insurance, which comes into effect in January 2003, and that requires each country to have an information centre to advise foreign accident victims of the insurer responsible.