Hamish McRae: Punish drivers who don't have insurance

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Indy Lifestyle Online

If we can devise a system that fines drivers for doing 34mph in a 30mph zone, why can we not devise one that fines them for driving with no insurance? Which, rationally, is the more serious offence.

If we can devise a system that fines drivers for doing 34mph in a 30mph zone, why can we not devise one that fines them for driving with no insurance? Which, rationally, is the more serious offence.

Estimates vary but it may be as high as 10 per cent of cars on the roads are not properly insured. The result is that when they crash, and they do so rather more frequently than the insured variety, other drivers who are insured have to pay.

My most recent experience was when someone drove into the back of my car. I got a call the next day saying, terribly sorry, he had just discovered that, by coincidence, his insurance had expired that very day, and could I say the accident happened a day later to give him time to renew it ... Um.

So what is to be done? Well, there are hi-tech solutions and low-tech ones. Among the hi-tech ones would be to make a proper data link between the tax disc and valid insurance. At the moment anyone can get a new tax disc by showing an insurance certificate that could simply be a 30-day cover note.

If there was a computer link between the insurers and the DVLA, any car owner whose insurance had expired could immediately show up on police screens. Speed cameras could be set to pick up any uninsured vehicles and any car stopped by the police would automatically be checked.

A low-tech solution would be to adopt the one used, very successfully, in Ireland, where cars have to show a valid insurance certificate on the windscreen alongside the tax disc. A guard or traffic warden can see straight away whether the car is legal.

An even simpler solution would be to include basic third-party insurance in the price of fuel. Most people would want more insurance and they could buy that in the usual way. But every car would be covered. Gas-guzzlers and drivers who put up a big mileage would be forced to pay a premium appropriate to their greater weight and use of the roads.

There are difficulties with this idea. One would be that it would involve the state in collecting the levy and disbursing it to the insurance companies. Another is that safe drivers might reasonably resent paying for the mistakes of lousy ones.

But at least there are solutions. My instinct would be to go for something that already clearly works, probably the Irish model, rather than trying to be too clever.

So why does nothing happen? Partly inertia and partly fashion. It is much easier for politicians to have some new "initiative" than to fix an established problem. Partly, I think, it is because there is no money in it for the Government. New casinos? Great, there is revenue there. Cut car insurance fraud? Worth doing but it will not help fund all those new initiatives.

I suspect insurance companies have a certain ambivalence here: do they really want these people who are evading the law as their customers?

And, of course, there has to be enforcement; uninsured cars would have to be impounded until they were legal again and the fine paid.

If, on the other hand, police forces or local authorities could impound any uninsured car and keep most of the fine, or, if the car was not collected, sell it and keep the money, then I think we might see a little more action.

The profit motive is a wonderful incentive, even for public servants, as the explosion of speed cameras has shown. And instead of punishing unwary but decent, legal citizens, they would be punishing the real villains, the ones who drive without insurance.

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