The Government is cracking down on uninsured drivers. The move will come too late for Ian Pearmain. For him an encounter with an irresonsible uninsured driver led to tragedy. It's not a rare occurance. Some 160 people are killed every year by uninsured and untraced drivers, while 23,000 people are injured. But all of us are forced to count the cost through more expensive car cover.
Around £30 of the premium on your car insurance goes to cover the cost of crashes involving uninsured and untraced drivers. Research from Direct Line and road safety charity Brake suggests that 3.3million drivers, have been involved in a collision with a driver who was uninsured.
The danger that uninsured drivers bring to the roads is very real, which is why Road Safety Minister Mike Penning published new regulations this week to allow the DVLA more powers to stop the practice. Under Continuous Insurance Enforcement it will be an offence to keep an uninsured vehicle, rather than just to drive when uninsured. "We need to do everything we can to keep unisured drivers off the roads," says Penning. "These new powers will help us to take targeted action while freeing up police time to deal with the hard core of offenders."
But insurers called for begger fines to deter people from driving with insurance. "The maximum fine available to the courts is £5,000, yet the average meted out is only £200, considerably less than the cost of insuring a vehicle in the first place," points out Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance. "Such small fines are ludicrous if you compare them with the £1,000 fine for not having a television licence, for example."
Most uninsured drivers are young men, often with a string of previous driving offences and disqualifications behind them and would thus be uninsurable. "I believe the penalty should at least reflect the premium that would typically be paid for a person of that age: they should not be able to get away with a paltry fine and go on to offend again," Douglas says.
Not only are uninsured drivers causing death and injury on our roads, their attitude at the scene of crashes underlines their lack of concern for the safety of others and an overriding priority not to get caught. According to Direct Line's research, in 17 per cent of collisions, the uninsured driver did not stop and left the scene. Even when they did stop, they still tried to evade being caught; 32 per cent lied and said they were insured and 23 per cent tried "not get the insurers involved".
"Uninsured drivers not only show disregard for the law but for other people too," says Andy Goldby, Director of Motor Underwriting at Direct Line. "To leave the scene of a crash where people are injured or worse, or try to wrangle their way out of it, shows their lack of personal responsibility. That is why harsher penalties are required: it is not a harmless or victimless crime."
Julie Townsend, campaigns director at the road safety charity Brake, says: "Research shows that people who take to the road uninsured are more likely to crash and cause tragic deaths and injuries, so it's vital that we see action to remove these highly irresponsible and illegal drivers from our roads."
The new rules – which are due to come into force from June - give the DVLA powers to destroy uninsured vehicles. It will work with the Motor Insurers' Bureau to identify uninsured vehicles. It will then write to motorists telling them that their vehicle appears to be uninsured and warning them that they will be fined unless they take action. The next step will be a £100 fine.
If the vehicle remains uninsured – regardless of whether the fine is paid – it can then be clamped, seized and destroyed. "This tough action is to be welcomed but it is vital that the Government undertakes a campaign to increase awareness," says the AA's Douglas. He fears that innocent motorists who forget to insure their vehicles on time because they are on holiday or have an extended stay in hospital will fall foul of the new rules.
The only exception is if the registered keeper of a vehicle officially declares that the car is permanently off road and not being driven – a process known as Statutory Off Road Notification.
Direct Line says the likelihood of being involved in a collision with an uninsured driver changes dramatically depending where you live in the country. In London, 15 per cent of drivers have been involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, closely followed by the West Midlands (14 per cent) and the North East (13 per cent). There's no research available to show what the chances of your being fined for forgetting to insure your car, but the risk of that happening to an innocent motorist is nothing compared to the menace that those without cover bring to the road.
The eventual financial boost to our pockets – through cheaper car cover – that the new more stringent rules should bring, is a powerful enough reason to welcome them. The fact they they should also lead to fewer unnecessary accidents and tragic deaths, like Sue Pearmain's means they are long overdue.
'I was scared I would lose them both'
Ian Pearmain's wife Sue was killed by an uninsured driver in a quiet country road in Nottinghamshire. Ian was driving, with Sue alongside and their 13-year-old daughter Alice in the back.
The uninsured driver came from the other direction and failed to negotiate the bend. Her car careered over to Ian's side of the road and hit their car on Sue's side.
Ian was able to get out of the car and went round to try to help Sue out. Meanwhile Alice was screaming in the back, but managed to drag herself out and sat at the side of the road clutching her stomach. Sue's door wouldn't open but with the help of passers-by they managed to wrench it free – but Sue's legs were trapped.
Once in hospitalSue drifted in and out of consciousness. "Whenever she was conscious she was more concerned about me and Alice than her own pain and injuries," says Ian.
While Ian was in a hospital ward recovering he was told that Sue's injuries were so severe that she didn't have long left. He was wheeled to her side and sat with her while she died. Sue was 55. Ian then had to tell Alice, who was in intensive care, that her mum had died.
Alice needed an eight-hour operation to remove nearly all of her pancreas. She also had kidney and liver bruising and spent a further six months in and out of hospital. "I was worried I would lose them both," says Ian.
The driver who caused the crash was convicted of careless driving and driving uninsured. She received just nine points on her licence and a £400 fine.
Parents lending their name to fraud
Fronting is on the increase – and it's pushing up the cost of your car cover. It effectively means young people are driving without valid insurance, which penalises anyone they have an accident with, and drives up insurance costs.
Research this week suggests that one in ten people have fronted – and one in four thinks it's legal.
What is fronting? It's when the main driver of a car lies to an insurance company that someone else is the main driver. It tends to happen with young or newly-qualified drivers who persuade their parents to front policies.
With annual premiums for an 18-year-old driver averaging around £1271.50, it's hardly surprising that the practice is growing. Especially when telling an insurer that a parent is the main driver can help to cut costs by 80 per cent or more.
But the practice is illegal and insurers are cracking down.
"Fronting is a false economy," says Peter Harrison, car insurance expert at Moneysupermarket. "Any motorist falsely claiming to be the main driver is committing fraud, and taking a serious risk.
"There will be serious repercussions if they were caught as their insurance will be invalidated.
"Further ramifications could result in a younger driver ending up in court being charged with driving without insurance."