Mark Hunter is the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheadle. Mark is also the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Liberal Democrat Leader, and is the Liberal Democrat deputy spokesman on Transport issues.
The effects of the credit crunch haven’t stopped at the banks, our wallets or the high street. The repercussions of people feeling the pinch are widespread – we’re all trying to save money in small ways hoping to make a big difference. The problem is that some people will choose illegal ‘shortcuts’ to save them money – like avoiding paying their car insurance.
It’s clear that the numbers of uninsured drivers are rising. Although calculating exact numbers is impossible, we do know that while fatalities from road accidents are in decline those involving uninsured drivers have increased dramatically. In fact estimates place the number of uninsured drivers at around 6.5% of all drivers or about 2 million motorists.
Uninsured drivers cost law abiding drivers money. The Motor Insurance Bureau calculates that uninsured drivers add £30 to the cost of every driver’s insurance policy, amounting to more than £500m a year in additional premiums – a cost that many of us can ill afford in the current economic climate.
What is even more worrying is that uninsured drivers are more likely to be dangerous drivers. According to the RAC Foundation, uninsured drivers are six times more likely to drive a non road-worthy vehicle, up to nine times more likely to be involved in an accident and ten times more likely to have been convicted of drink driving. In fact the most recent estimates by the DfT show that uninsured drivers kill 160 people and injure 23,000 each year.
It’s clear that the Government is failing to tackle the growing menace of uninsured drivers. In fact, the average fine for driving without insurance has fallen by 13.4% between 1997 (£224) and 2007 (£194). Meanwhile, the average premium for comprehensive insurance is over £700 (2009) – much more than the average fine. By allowing insurance costs to increase far above the fine, the Government are not sending a clear message that driving without insurance does not pay. Unless the Government works with insurance companies to make premiums more affordable and ensures that fines reflect the seriousness of the crime, there will continue to be little incentive for people to pay for their insurance. Instead these drivers will continue to prefer to chance that they will not get caught.
Lack of enforcement is the other problem. Technological advances such as roadside insurance checks and automatic number plate recognition are effective, but only if there are enough officers to use them. We need the Government to make enforcement of this problem a higher priority and try some new ideas to improve compliance. One such proposal is based on the system in France whereby all drivers have to display proof of their insurance and MOT certification in their windscreen, thereby ensuring that officials can quickly and easily see which cars are not insured.
With uninsured drivers taking three lives per week on our roads, this problem is not a small one; the Government needs to recognise this and take action now to prevent this problem growing.