Insurers have a role to play in helping to cut the death toll on UK roads. Sarah Kennedy reports from the ABI motor conference

With the death toll mounting on UK roads, the government believes partnering with insurers could be the key to saving lives. The ABI’s annual motor conference, held last week, tackled a series of ongoing challenges for the insurance industry, including uninsured foreign drivers, road safety and environmental challenges. But the most promising outcome of the conference came from keynote speaker and road safety minister Jim Fitzpatrick.

Armed with a list of grim statistics of lives lost, Fitzpatrick laid out a series of new initiatives which, he hoped, would see those numbers significantly decline.

Last year, 3,173 people were killed in car collisions in the UK.

Fitzpatick said: “That’s a huge number, of utterly pointless deaths and that’s why we need to keep working hard to drive these numbers down.”

A major portion of those fatalities were new and young drivers, indicative of serious flaws within driver training, he said. Although there had been several updates over the years, the driving test was developed in 1935 and was in desperate need of an overhaul.

Professional lessons

The government is also looking at mandating the number of professional lessons new drivers must take, supplementary to the teaching of family and friends, before a licence is granted.

Fitzpatrick admitted it would be appropriate to retest older and more experienced drivers, but he feared a backlash from the public. And that was where insurers could play a valuable role, he added.

During the conference, members of the industry discussed the possibility of offering incentives to safe drivers. Those experienced drivers, willing to have their skills retested and proven to be safe and conscientious behind the wheel, could see premium reductions or decreases in excess.

Fitzpatrick said it could be just the thing needed to motivate drivers to participate in retesting.

“Armed with a list of grim statistics of lives lost, Fitzpatrick laid out a series of new initiatives which, he hoped, would see those numbers significantly decline

He said: “Anything insurers could do to encourage safer driving, we would obviously welcome.”

The government is also looking into a crackdown on uninsured foreign drivers – a major concern cited by the insurance industry because of increasing difficulties in tracking down illegal vehicles.

In the UK, the police can confirm if a vehicle is insured by checking the motor insurance database, but determining whether a foreign vehicle is insured poses a far greater challenge.

According to the Motor Insurance Bureau, drivers from elsewhere in Europe caused 18,000 reported collisions in the UK.

Although some steps had been taken by the European Commission and the UK government to address the road safety impact of cross-border driving, the ABI said accurate measures of the risk this group of drivers posed had not yet been established.

The current level of cross-border driving data sharing is also said to be highly limited across the EU.

That said, the Department for Transport is in ongoing discussions with partner European states to look into devising a system of information sharing and vehicle tracking systems.

Fitzpatrick said the government was still in the process of gathering evidence, but the result could have a major impact on helping the UK and EU states reach target reductions in the number of people killed or seriously injured in collisions.

During his speech, Fitzpatrick took the time to commend the insurance industry on positive strides made in the new system of continuous insurance enforcement.

The co-operation of the insurance industry in this regard was essential, added Fitzpatrick, because when the system was fully operational in spring 2009, it would be an offence to be the registered keeper of an uninsured vehicle and up-to-date records would be essential to law enforcement efforts.

Winning the war on the uninsured

Record numbers of uninsured vehicles have been seized and crushed this year, according to figures revealed at the ABI motor conference.
The use of automatic number plate recognition technology by the police has led to over 100,000 uninsured vehicles being seized by the police in roadside checks so far this year, compared to 78,000 during 2006. Of these, 45,000 have been crushed.
Nick Starling, director of general insurance and health at the ABI, reiterated the industry's calls for uninsured drivers to face tougher penalties.
He said: "Uninsured drivers are a menace. They often drive unroadworthy vehicles, and the cost of compensating their victims adds an extra £30 a year to the premium paid by an honest motorist. These figures show that the determination of the insurance industry and the police to drive them from our roads is beginning to bear fruit. However, we need to ensure that the penalties they face reflect the seriousness of the crime."