Insurers are strongly backing the government's hard-line approach towards motorists whose driving leads to death or serious injury or who fail to obtain adequate insurance cover.

Ministers say they want to increase the penalties for motorists convicted of serious driving offences in an effort to reduce the 39,122 people injured and 3,423 killed on Britain's roads last year.

The government is seeking to cut these figures by at least 40% by imposing stiffer jail terms, such as up to ten years for a second drink driving offence.

Transport officials and the police aim to target the group of 800,000 people, mainly young men, who routinely drive without insurance, or indulge in drink driving.

Another group being targeted is older men whose erratic motorway driving leads them to be compared to Toad of Toad Hall.

One idea that surfaced during talks between the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Magistrates' Association is for offenders to serve time in hospital accident and emergency units. Alternatively, drivers could be forced to re-sit the driving test.

A spokeswoman for the ABI said: “We support the government's tougher approach. Community service orders have proved a more effective deterrent to offenders than fines.”

Timely research commissioned by Direct Line this week shows an overwhelming majority (98%) of motorists consider driving without adequate insurance to be absolutely unacceptable behaviour.

However, nearly one in ten drivers said they knew someone who regularly drove without adequate insurance. Another 7% admitted they had driven someone else's car without first obtaining cover for themselves.

Police will be able to target potentially poor drivers more effectively with the introduction of the Vehicle Crime Bill, published last week.

This will allow the police to complete bulk checks on motorists using the Motor Insurance database, currently they can file only individual checks.

Steve Treloar, motor business manager at Direct Line, said: “Official statistics suggest that one in twenty motorists are driving without insurance, but according to our research the problem is much worse. Current penalties are clearly not acting as a deterrent and we are urging the government to review the penalties imposed on uninsured drivers.”