Uninsured driving is not taken seriously by the courts. If it were, the industry might not have to fork out for claims and levies, says Ian Ritchie
Now that we live in a country where our government is prepared to condone the use of `soft' drugs, cycling on the pavement is a recognised sport rather than a crime, and the discarding of litter has become an art form, no wonder a significant proportion of the car-owning public takes a chance on not having motor insurance.
The numbers vary depending upon which survey you believe, but the AA recently suggested some 15% of motorists could be driving uninsured. There are strong indications that in some inner city areas, the percentage could be even higher.
Why should this be the case? The starting point is probably cost, particularly for young drivers. The sheer volume of cars on the road, the ensuing congestion, and testosterone-fuelled driving by some of our young, make for a lethal cocktail, with insurers left to pick up the bill when metal meets metal. Costs are also forced upwards by the growth industry of the last few years, no-win no-fee litigation, fraud related claims, and shareholder expectations, leaving little option for insurers than to hike premiums or stomach losses.
So what signal do the courts send to those who fail to insure? Not a strong one, if a glance at my local paper is anything to go by. Now, I accept that court reporting of magistrates' judgments does not go into mitigating circumstances, but nevertheless, draw your own conclusions from the following recently reported cases.
Male, 19, no insurance, £40 fine, six points. Male 25, no insurance or MOT, £35, three months disqualification. Male 23, no insurance or MOT, failed to produce licence, £100, six points. Male 18, speeding £100, four points.
At a separate sitting, numerous cases of drivers failing to have a road fund licence were heard. Almost all the fines were into three figures, and in addition, the miscreants were ordered to pay back duty.
As a nation that retains its love affair with the car, we are being faced with charges to bring our cars into London, there are speed cameras both on the open road and in motorway roadwork chicanes, and, of course, all the money generated goes to the public purse.
Now, I am not arguing that as a nation we should be any less vigilant in the enforcement of our laws on errant motorists. What I am saying is that at present there's no real deterrent to driving uninsured. Break the speed limit, and you get a letter telling you of your crime, and an opportunity to contribute to the public coffers. Fail to buy a tax disc, and not only will you be fined, but you will have to pay for the duty that you (almost) evaded.
But, don't bother to insure, you might get caught and fined, and the insurance industry, which still has to pay if you cause injury or damage, through the MIB, sees none of the revenue generated by the fines.
In today's society, an appeal to the social conscience and impact on victims' lives is unlikely to succeed. Anyway, driving without insurance is seen as a victimless crime.
What we need is a greater deterrent. OK, we have the Motor Insurers' Database, but that has yet to make a real impact on numbers uninsured.
Windscreen insurance discs have been talked about for years, and are in place in many other countries, including Jersey and Guernsey, on our own doorstep. In my view, such a visible immediate sign of insurance, or lack thereof, would dramatically improve the take-up rate of cover.
And finally, what about a tariff of penalties for payment to the industry, of back premiums from the last date that proof of insurance could be evidenced? This would reduce the amount that the MIB would be forced to levy on its members.
If we could dramatically reduce the number of uninsured drivers, everyone would win. The courts would free up time, insurers would obtain more revenue, brokers would generate more commission from their share of the 15% who bought through their channel, and the law abiding public would benefit by a reduction in their premiums.
What we would need is a high profile campaign, a clear statement of what the back penalties would be, and perhaps some encouragement from insurers to entice previously uninsured drivers into the fold.
Maybe the government could play its part by creating a risk pool for habitual offenders the industry would deem uninsurable.
Oh dear, there goes my alarm, time to stop dreaming and wake up.