Threats of fines, penalty points and driving bans are not deterring uninsured motorists from getting behind the wheel, according to a new study which reveals that the average cost of insuring a car is far higher than the average fine issued to people caught driving with no car insurance.
The study, carried out by the AA, revealed that the average fine for people caught driving without car insurance in the UK is £299 – far lower than the maximum fine of £5,000 – which is mainly a result of penalties being means tested.
As the majority of people convicted of driving insured are young men with low incomes, they cannot often afford to pay the biggest potential fines and so walk away from court only a few hundred pounds lighter in the pocket – significantly less than the £1,750 that it costs the average young motorist with no convictions and a clean licence to insure his or her car.
In order to tackle the problem of uninsured drivers, the government is implementing a number of motoring offence reforms from next month that will increase the fixed penalty for driving without car insurance from £200 to £300.
Though this has been welcomed by some, the AA points out that the £300 is roughly the same amount that the average uninsured driver already pays, once means testing is taken into account, and has instead called for tougher sanctions to deter those breaking the rules.
Targeting those most likely to offend is one option, according to Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, who pointed out that the majority of uninsured drivers have previous motoring offences to their names and are often driving vehicles with no MoT or tax.
In 2012 alone, 11,000 convicted uninsured motorists had previously been disqualified from driving, and Mr Thomas has now called on the government to think twice about how it will tackle the problem.
Putting the brakes on
“For the habitual offender who is used to the inside of a courtroom, [the £300 fixed penalty] is hardly a disincentive, when they can easily obtain another cheap banger for cash, no questions asked, and continue offending,” he explained.
“Although the number of uninsured drivers is falling thanks to the introduction of Continuous Insurance Enforcement in 2011, the chances of being hit by an uninsured driver in Britain are still higher than almost anywhere else in Europe.”
Figures published by the road safety charity Brake show that one out of every 25 motorists on Britain’s roads is believed to be driving without car insurance, while every year uninsured drivers kill 160 people and cause injury to 23,000.
Furthermore, the likelihood of a successful recovery of damages from an uninsured driver is extremely low, according to Mr Thomas, who pointed out that they are often unemployed or on very low incomes and frequently associated with other criminal activities.
On the road to recovery?
In order to better tackle the problem, the AA says it is up to the government and police to increase the chances of offenders being caught.
“If uninsured drivers know they’ll quickly be caught then that will act as a big disincentive. Clearly more police patrols equipped with automatic number plate recognition technology, which helps identify cars with no insurance, MoT or tax, will help,” the organisation stated.
“We need a tough, no-compromise approach to uninsured drivers which should include community service. For extreme offenders, electronic tagging or, as a last resort, custodial sentences should be considered, too.”
With uninsured drivers costing the country almost £400 million a year and adding £33 to the cost of every car insurance policy, changes to help tackle the problem would likely be welcomed by the vast majority of Britain’s road users.