Insurers defend withholding 'commercially sensitive' information

A government minister has slammed the insurance industry for withholding information relating to young drivers involved in accidents.

Transport minister Stephen Ladyman said insurers were dragging their heels over providing relevant data on when people involved in car crashes passed their tests because the information was "commercially sensitive".

He said insurers held the key to finding out whether people being killed or injured on roads were novice drivers with less than two years' experience.

He told the Transport Select Committee that the government had details of the number of accidents and the age at which people had them, but no evidence about when they took their driving tests.

"The insurance industry has indicated to us that they are very keen to work with us. But they were not prepared to give us the data we really need."

Ladyman added: "They provided us with a very general database which did not tell us any more than we already had. When we went back to them we said we wanted the real data and they told us the real data was commercially confidential."

He told the committee the government would find a way to keep the information from competitors.

Giving evidence to the committee's inquiry examining whether new pre-test requirements for novice drivers or post-test restriction could cut accident rates, Ladyman dismissed suggestions from the ABI of imposing night curfews and cutting passenger numbers.

He said: "If insurance companies are so concerned about people being out at night they can do it through the insurance policies."

Ladyman called for a "fundamentally reformed" driving test as he gave his strongest hint yet that drivers would be forced to learn over a set period of time before being allowed to take a driving test.

Justin Jacobs, the ABI's head of motor insurance, said: "It is not that we do not want to supply this information but, at present, much of the data the minister wants is not collected by insurers.

"We are speaking to our members to see if we can provide more information the government is seeking. And we are already working with the government, through the Driving Standards Agency, on a project to identify whether there are high risk groups within young drivers, and are providing data as part of this."

The Department for Transport has announced plans to enable motor insurance certificates to be issued electronically.

Currently the law requires these certificates to be sent by insurers to policyholders by post.

The ABI said the move would help insurers provide a "faster more efficient service to their customers".