Improving on green cards: Motorists can now get full cover for travel in all EC countries

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THE CONTINUED delay in opening the Channel tunnel is irritating for drivers who want speedier access to the Continent.

But at least motorists who travel regularly to other EC countries can now buy comprehensive insurance cover for motoring in Britain and elsewhere in the EC on a single policy.

A policy launched this month by the newly formed insurer Preferred Direct provides full comprehensive cover throughout the EC for occasional visitors. Business travellers and those who own second homes abroad are excluded. The policy highlights the fact that the green cards issued by many insurers for overseas travel only provide third party cover.

Since the end of last year, as a result of an EC directive, all policies issued in one EC country will provide the minimum cover required in all others. If the standards in the home country are more stringent than those required in the country you are visiting, a policy will provide the higher of the two levels of cover when you are abroad.

This means that all British motor policies include third party cover across the EC. Many British motorists will still want to buy additional short-term policies to obtain full comprehensive cover while away. This is particularly true for visitors to Spain, Portugal and Greece, which have been allowed to defer full implementation of the directive until December 1995.

In these countries the cover is limited to the native minimum, which could be lower than the compensation awarded to victims of an accident. A motorist visiting these countries without full comprehensive cover, involved in an accident considered to be his or her fault, could be landed with a large personal bill.

Ireland has also not implemented the directive in full, but this is less significant as its minimum insurance cover is comparable to that of the UK.

The Motor Insurers Bureau, which administers green cards in Britain, says it is important for motorists to check the cover provided by their existing policy before driving abroad.

Roger Snook, the bureau's claims manager, says: 'Talk to your insurer before you go, and ensure that normal cover applies. Don't ask your broker - ask your insurance company.'

Several leading insurers now issue policies that automatically include comprehensive cover for travel within the EC and associated countries. This normally means members of the European Free Trade Association, such as Austria and Switzerland, and other central European countries, including the Czech and Slovak republics.

General Accident last year launched its Motor Options policy, and from July this year Eagle Star's standard motor policy will include comprehensive cover across the EC.

A spokesman for Direct Line, the cheapest insurer of those contacted, rejects that approach. He says it is fairer to charge extra to those who actually travel abroad in view of the higher accident rate in some countries and the expense of retrieving vehicles.

Even motorists whose travel is covered by existing policies are normally required to notify their insurer before leaving. This enables insurers to monitor the number of trips and the risk attached and issue an internationally recognised green card.

Although the card is not a legal requirement it can make life easier. Several insurers are concerned that British insurance documentation may not be understood by police in other countries, and a spokesman for General Accident warned that French police have on occasion attempted to fine British drivers not carrying green cards.

Preferred Direct's policy includes a Continental breakdown and accident rescue service and medical expenses up to pounds 100,000 for any party member. It is the company's first big policy launch since the acquisition of 51 per cent of its shares by Friends Provident.

The balance of the shares is owned by Eureko, a joint venture between Friends Provident and Danish, Dutch and Swedish finance businesses.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MOTOR INSURANCE COMPARISONS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Quotes on fully comprehensive insurance for one-year-old Ford Sierra 1600 L, full no claims bonus, for a 40-year-old married couple living in St Albans, Hertfordshire ----------------------------------------------------------------- Insurer Premium Excess Notes ----------------------------------------------------------------- Direct Line pounds 199.00 pounds 100 Third party only elsewhere in EC; for comprehensive cover throughout EC, additional pounds 16 for nine to 17 days ----------------------------------------------------------------- Preferred Direct pounds 229.64 pounds 75 Includes comprehensive cover throughout EC ----------------------------------------------------------------- Co-operative Insurance pounds 241.00 pounds 125 Third party only elsewhere in EC; for comprehensive cover throughout EC, additional pounds 15 per month ----------------------------------------------------------------- Sun Alliance pounds 259.00 pounds 50 Third party only elsewhere in EC; for comprehensive cover throughout EC, additional pounds 17 for 14 days ----------------------------------------------------------------- Eagle Star pounds 284.00 pounds 50 Will include comprehensive cover throughout EC from July ----------------------------------------------------------------- AA pounds 291.00 pounds 100 Includes comprehensive cover throughout EC ----------------------------------------------------------------- General Accident pounds 383.00 pounds 100 Includes comprehensive cover throughout EC -----------------------------------------------------------------

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