A million uninsured drivers on Britain's roads face having their cars impounded under new laws which ministers hope will mean lower premiums for law-abiding motorists.
Every vehicle in the country will be checked on a central database, with uninsured owners facing a fine and ultimately having their car seized and crushed. The UK has the highest levels of uninsured driving in western Europe. The Government believes the clampdown will help to cut the £30 a year added to premiums to cover the £500m-a-year costs of accidents involving uninsured drivers.
Mike Penning, the road safety minister, is expected to approve new regulations in the next few weeks. He said: "We are working closely with the insurance companies to make it mandatory for vehicles to be insured. There are millions of vehicles on our roads that are not insured. People say, 'Well, it's sitting outside on the road outside my house. I'm not using it. It's taxed but doesn't need to be insured.' It has to be insured, because if someone decides to use it even for an emergency they will not be covered."
Under the new system the DVLA and the insurance industry will compare databases to identify the owners of cars without insurance. In the first instance they will be sent a letter warning them they could face a fine. If they fail to obtain insurance, they will be fined £100, and repeat offenders face having their vehicle seized and destroyed. Drivers will still be able to register their car as being off-road to qualify for an exemption from road tax.
At present uninsured drivers can only be prosecuted if caught behind the wheel. Under the change, permitted by Labour's 2006 Road Safety Act but never enacted, there will be a new offence of keeping an uninsured vehicle.
According to the Motor Insurers' Bureau, every year 160 people are killed and 23,000 injured by uninsured drivers. A motorist without insurance is five times more likely to be involved in road collisions, to fail to comply with other road traffic requirements and to be engaged in other criminal activity.
Last month the bureau, which compensates people involved in accidents with drivers who have no insurance, launched an online video warning of the consequences of driving without insurance. It also revealed that Vauxhall Astras are the cars removed from the road most frequently, followed by BMW 3 Series, Vauxhall Vectra, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Corsa. The bureau's chief executive, Ashton West, said: "The proposed change in insurance law in 2011 will mean that the number of people caught without motor insurance will increase."
The consequences for drivers taking to the road without insurance include vehicle seizure, a minimum of six licence penalty points, and a maximum fine of £5,000. Around 242,000 offenders are convicted for uninsured driving every year. Drivers who have their cars seized will also be liable for £150 in recovery fees and still have to prove that they have insurance before they can get their vehicles back.
Young people represent the highest proportion of uninsured drivers in the UK, with 20 per cent of drivers aged between 17 and 20 suspected of being uninsured due to the high premiums they face – £2,500 for a young man and up to £1,400 for a young woman. Ministers have acknowledged that for many, the fines for being caught uninsured are less than the annual premium.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has backed the proposal, saying in response to a government consultation: "Improving the enforcement of motor insurance laws will reduce the level of uninsured driving, improve road safety, deter and detect other criminal activity and reduce costs for law-abiding motorists."
Additional reporting by Nalini Sivathasan
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