Will cheaper car insurance get rid of uninsured driving on Britain's roads or will some people drive without cover no matter what? Christine Seib reports....

Rachel Turner was stopped by the police 23 times in six months but continued driving without a licence, MOT or insurance. The woman from Southampton was jailed for six months last year for 151 driving offences, before being banned from driving for two years last week after being found guilty of 101 motoring offences.

Would cheaper insurance have stopped Turner and similar drivers from driving uninsured? Some believe uninsured driving stems from exorbitant insurance premiums for certain sections of society. Others say that some people will continue to drive without insurance, regardless of how cheap it is, because their antisocial behaviour is ingrained.

It is a divisive topic in the insurance industry, one that is estimated to cost the industry £400m annually.

Insurance Times has received numerous letters over recent months on the issue, starting with Croydon broker Oscar Hasdell who said that, given the rising popularity of cherry-picking risks, minimum cover at an affordable price should be made available to everyone, particularly young drivers. He said this would remove one excuse used by those who drive without it. It could be provided by the government or, more likely, the insurance industry. Hasdell's letter sparked a flurry of responses, notably from motor insurance consultant Roy Rodger and intermediary Louise Scaife. Both said he was idealistic, but unrealistic.

Rodger said: “If a driver cannot afford the premium to insure his car, what else is there he cannot afford – its maintenance, roadworthiness and tax? The short answer is: if a driver cannot afford to put a car on the road legally, he should not put it on the road at all. The answer is not in reducing our premiums and throwing our rule book away.”

In it for the money
Scaife pointed out that insurers were in the business to make a profit, not “subsidise the joyriding youth culture of today”. She said: “If this drives the youngsters off the road, then is that such a bad thing? After all, statistics tell us that they are responsible for a vast number of accidents that cost lives.” They were backed by Highway active underwriter Quin Lovis, who suggested custodial sentences, bigger fines and confiscated vehicles to solve the problem.

Are they right, or would cheaper insurance for young people reduce uninsured driving? The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries believe it would. At the General Insurance Research conference last Octo-ber, it said it was preferable for insurers to offer cover with limited scope rather than high excesses to young people. Suggestions included limiting the number of other people in the car aged under 25, limiting hours of covered driving to between 6am and 10pm and encouraging enhanced driving skills.

Spokesman Derek Newton said: “It's believed that there are currently several hundred thousand motorists currently driving without valid insurance. Making insurance more affordable should reduce that number. This will ease the burden on the authorities and on the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) and therefore it will benefit the majority of motorists who obey the law.”

Some never change
However, the majority of interested groups are more pessimistic. The MIB and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said young people did not play a large part in uninsured driving statistics, but that there was a core group of drivers who would never insure their cars, no matter how much insurance cost. MIB spokesman Roger Snook said: “They belong to the criminal classes or the class of people who are generically anti-social and are not prepared to pay.” Snook said young drivers tended to accept the high premiums they were charged. “The young drivers know they are less experienced and more dangerous. Although it may be an enormous sum, they appreciate the incontrovertible fact that they are more likely to claim and therefore it makes good sense to have it.”

ABI spokesman Vic Rance agreed. He said: “There are a lot of people who don't buy insurance in the same way they don't buy their tax disc, they run on bald tyres and anything else they can get away with. The reason young people pay more for insurance is because they hit more things and they hit them harder. It's like anything else – if you can't afford it, you shouldn't have it.” Rance said there was no realistic way to arrange a subsidised insurance scheme. “Who's going to pay for the cheap insurance?”, he said. “It can only come from the people buying insurance.”

So what is the answer? Insurers will never change human nature. There will always be people who flout the law, no matter how easy it is to obey. Young people will always drive more recklessly than older people. And safe drivers will always resent subsidising these lawless and reckless drivers. The issue needs to be discussed by parties such as the ABI, insurers, the police and the Home Office. They need to set penalties that actually deter, as the ones that stand now clearly do not work.