John Jackson says courts should make uninsured drivers pay more for their crime

There will be general satisfaction that the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB), along with the ABI, has finally convinced politicians that parliament should at last start to take uninsured driving seriously as an offence. But, like other offences such as murder, MPs are still not taking lawbreaking seriously enough.

When judges are forced to hand down sentences for murdering infants that reduce life imprisonment to the chance to walk free after five years, uninsured driving clearly barely gets a blip on an MP's radar.

Home Office figures reveal that, since 1997, while successful prosecutions for uninsured driving rose, the fines imposed by the courts dropped by 25%, shows how there is a desperate need to get serious.

And insurers, too, are being given a wake-up call. From next year they will face tighter deadlines to upload information on their motor policies to the motor insurance database (MID). The work of both the MIB and MID is to be applauded in tackling uninsured driving.

But, as a reader's letter to Insurance Times recently pointed out (Letters, 15 June), among considerations taken into account by the courts when fining uninsured drivers, is ability to pay and whether a guilty plea was entered. As in more serious cases such as murder, this ability to get off lightly by pleading guilty for an offence in which guilt is blindingly obvious, must stop.

It is absolutely elementary to prove that a driver has no insurance. It is as "bang-to-rights" an open and shut case as one could possibly bring before the courts. Pleading guilty may save the courts time, but that should be no excuse for a lighter sentence.

As to ability to pay, everyone should cut their cloth to suit their pockets. Giving someone the opportunity to pay off the fine at a tenner a week is no way to treat something as serious as uninsured driving. There cannot be two levels of lawbreaking based on the ability to pay or not.

Nevertheless, the successful MIB and ABI lobbying over the Road Safety Bill will mean that fixed penalties will be tougher. But, there is one further step that should be included in the Bill - and here is a golden opportunity for a sensible MP to put down an amendment.

This amendment should state that it shall be compulsory for all motor vehicles, whether on the road or off it, to carry on their windscreen an up-to-date certificate of insurance. These certificates could, perhaps, be issued through the MIB. Moreover, a police officer should have the powers to order a vehicle off the road immediately if found without such a certificate.

Uninsured drivers, it is said, cost the good motorist £30 a year extra on his motor insurance. But I won't hold my breath waiting for insurers to drop their rates by £30 ,even if the problem does improve. IT