The MIB's Ashton West tells Anita Anandarajah about his attempts to eradicate the ‘social ill’ of uninsured driving

Ashton West may be a quiet, considered individual, but he speaks with missionary zeal in his role as chief executive of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB). He wants to do nothing less than eradicate the “social ill” of uninsured driving.

This is in line with the bureau’s overall strategy, which is to slash the cost of uninsured driving.

This costs the UK in excess of £0.5bn a year. West tags as “totally unacceptable” this year’s figure, standing at £388m, or as he says: “£30 per policy per annum to the honest drivers’ premium.” This puts the figure into some perspective.

West will work with recently-appointed MIB chairman Keith Morris. “Our long term objective is to stabilise and reduce the levy, while fulfilling our legal obligation to victims of uninsured driving,” he says.

Running the motor insurance data-base (MID), on which all insured motor-ists could be listed with their policy details, is an important ongoing task.

The introduction of the Fourth EU Motor Directive, requiring insurers of all UK vehicles to be traceable, has increased the visibility of the MID.

This has all added up to an exciting and important time for the MID. But if West is to achieve his aim, there are hurdles to jump first.

The police, the MID’s number one client, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) are increasing their use of the database. It is crucial for this to continue for it to be a success.

West’s ambition is for the database to be used as legal proof of ownership of insurance.

“In practice the police are already using the database as a first line of checking whether a vehicle is insured. If it is not on the database they will then follow up with a call to the MIB hotline,” says West.

The police are expected to clock in 30 million hits this year – or one hit every second. The DVLA will follow the same practice next year.

“We know the government is keen to move towards e-commerce. Utilising the database is a logical move,” says West. “Whether it is practical and cost effective is to be seen.”

The bureau is bracing itself for something of a crunch time come

1 January, when insurers will have to conform to the new seven-day window for updating the database with policy information. The target has been 14 days since October 2005.

The MIB hopes to achieve 95% compliance of all data by seven days by the time the new rules come into place. At the end of August 2007, the figures for personal vehicles were 95.4% compliant within seven days, four months ahead of schedule.

It’s all about “compliance, compliance, compliance” as West leads the MIB in ensuring the police do not seize the wrong vehicle simply because the data contained in the MID is not up-to-date.

The bureau set up a dedicated helpline for the police to contact insurers via the MID, which will be fully rolled out to the 40-odd police forces around Great Britain in October.

The turnaround time for each inquiry is 15 minutes. The database is now taking between 700 and 800 calls a week from 29 out of 54 police forces in Great Britain.

“It is no longer enough to ensure that vehicles are insured because the first thing the police will do, when they stop you, is to check the database

Ashton West

In July, a weakness in the system was highlighted when a woman in Llandudno had her car wrongly confiscated as Direct Line had failed to report to the MIB within the stipulated time frame.

West is confident that that by the end of the year that will be a thing of the past. “It [compliance] is already hovering at the 95% level,” he says.

While the focus is on personal cars, which are classified as MID-1, commercial fleet vehicles, or MID-2, will also come under scrutiny next year.

The timetable for commercial vehicles differs whereby policy data is to be submitted within 14 days and vehicle data within 21 days.

The targeted compliance level is 95% but currently that figure is in the mid 1980s.

West is less confident about getting MID-2 to get into the database on time. “The biggest problem here has been getting policyholders to get their information into our database. It is no longer enough to ensure that vehicles are insured because the first thing the police will do when they stop you is to check the database,” West explains.

This will of course lead to problems when the vehicle is confiscated.

Hence the MIB’s three-pronged approach to create awareness among policy holders.

The first is a campaign launched in March bearing the very lengthy title of ‘You might be insured but if your car is not on the MID, today could be a bad day at the office’. The second is the website against which one can check whether one’s vehicle is registered at the MID.

Next month will see the third, a petrol pump advertising campaign to reach out to commercial vehicle drivers.

West says the response from insurers has largely been good. Insurers failing to meet the 95% compliance for uploading information on the database will incur a fine, dependent on their premium income and the degree to which they missed their target.

The MIB has already fined 14 companies since October 2005. Most insurers don’t want to be seen as not complying because it is a regulatory function that they will be flouting. “That is what motivates them, rather than money,” says West.

But there is a financial cost as well, a single fine can run up to £250,000.

Next year, the Department for Transport will introduce a new offence of keeping a vehicle without insurance, which was established in the Road Safety Act 2006.

The regulations will also enforce continuous insurance enforcement, so that gaps in insurance cover are not permitted.

This will mean that if a registered keeper of a vehicle is found to not have cover, he will first be a given a warning, followed by a fine and finally the vehicle will be clamped. Even vehicles that are parked and not actively used will theoretically be subject to a fine.

The ultimate success of the MIB’s campaigns among policyholders to input their policy details into its database will be measured by the all-important 95% in the new year.

Until then, West will continue his on-going battle to rid the roads of the scourge of uninsured drivers.