Guest writer Alison Ashworth explains how to ensure you stay on the right side of the law when it comes to car insurance.
Having car insurance gives you peace of mind that if the worst should happen, you will be covered under the terms of your policy. The minimum level of cover that a person is required to have by law is ‘third party’ insurance. This covers liability for death or personal injury to any person or property caused by the driver.
It is illegal to drive or keep a vehicle without insurance. It is also an offence to permit someone to use a vehicle without insurance, for which the penalties are the same as if the owner drove the vehicle themselves. The penalties for driving without insurance can have significant consequences for the motorist. Despite this, I receive countless calls from otherwise law abiding motorists who are brought before the Court on charges of having no insurance.
Most of the people I come across who face a no insurance charge are regular people like you and I. They never intended to avoid paying for insurance; in fact on many occasions the premium has been paid in full.
One key thing to remember is that it is the responsibility of you as the driver to ensure that you are insured. Many cases involve drivers who have missed their renewal date, usually through poor finance management and organisational skills. Even when a policy is set to automatically renew, you should always check to make sure that the funds have left your account and a new policy of insurance has been issued. It would be no defence to say that the money should have let your account when it is your responsibility to make sure that it does. You should also check carefully to ensure that the details of the policy match up with your requirements. Even minor mistakes can be costly.
Before driving another person’s vehicle it is vital to check that you are insured to drive it. The terms of your policy should be carefully reviewed to determine whether you are able to drive another person’s vehicle. Many people still make the mistake of assuming that it is the vehicle rather than the driver which must be insured.
There are a number of issues which could result in a person being prosecuted for driving without insurance despite an insurance policy being in place. One example is where the vehicle is used beyond the terms of the insurance policy. Policies tend to cover social, domestic, pleasure and (in some cases) commuting purposes. If however a person with this level of cover uses their vehicle in the course of a business, they could find themselves prosecuted for driving without insurance; since they are deemed to be driving beyond the terms of their policy. Business insurance would be required in order to use the vehicle for business purposes (more than merely commuting to a permanent place of work). It may come as a surprise but prosecutions for this type of insurance offence are very frequent.
Even when a person has obtained business insurance, they are only able to use their vehicle for the business specified in their policy. To use the vehicle in the course of another business which the driver has would be committing an offence.
What happens when a person is caught without insurance?
A person who is caught keeping a vehicle without insurance would face prosecution and a fine of up to £1000. Its worth noting that the maximum fine is indeed higher than the price of many insurance policies, and a person would still need to obtain valid insurance following the offence. Many people are surprised at the severity which they are dealt for what most people deem to be a ‘minor’ and ‘victimless’ offence. There are extremely limited defences available to this charge, however it is sometimes possible to avoid the need to go to Court by paying the fine associated with keeping a vehicle without insurance in advance of any Court hearing.
If however a person is caught driving/permitting the use of a vehicle without insurance then the consequences can be much more serious for the motorist. A person who is guilty of this offence might be lucky enough to receive a fixed penalty offer of 6 points and a £300 fine. Alternatively the person would be summonsed to Court and would face:
- 6-8 penalty points;
- An instant ban of up to twelve months;
- A fine of up to £5000
The penalty points associated with having no insurance can have significant consequences for a motorist, particularly if the person already has points on their driving licence. Gaining 6 – 8 additional points on a licence can lead to a person totting up and facing a 6 months disqualification from driving if the total number of points on their licence reaches twelve. On reaching the twelve point threshold, the only way to avoid the 6 months ban would be to put forward a well prepared and presented exceptional hardship argument at Court before a District Judge or bench of Magistrates.
A further complication presents itself to New Drivers (those who have held their licence for less than two years). If a new driver obtains 6 or more penalty points on their licence within the first two years of driving, their driving licence will be revoked by the DVLA. They would need to re-apply for their licence and pass both their theory and practical driving tests again. Any new driver who commits the offence of driving without insurance offence will be liable to having their licence revoked by the DVLA unless a very persuasive argument can be made out at Court.
Top 5 frequently asked questions
Are there any instances when it is permissible to keep a vehicle without insurance?
The only time when it is permissible to keep a vehicle without insurance is when a statutory off road notice (SORN) has been made in connection with the vehicle
Are any defences available?
Yes. You would have a complete defence if you were able to provide evidence that you were validly insured during the period alleged by the prosecution. If the vehicle was not insured during the relevant period then a defence to the charge could be to show that you were misled into believing that you had insurance by someone such as your employer.
My car is simply parked on the road and I don't drive it. Does it have to be insured?
Yes. Using a vehicle includes parking it and leaving it on the road, therefore it must be insured.
I’ve had an insurance policy with the same company for years and the policy is set to automatically renew each year. I have now found out that they have not taken the direct debit and cancelled the Policy without my knowledge. What are my rights?
The offence has still been committed since the responsibility for insuring the vehicle is with the driver, not the company.
My car has been impounded for having no insurance, are the police allowed to do this?
Yes. The police are able to impound cars which are found to be on the road without insurance. The person would need to pay the costs of moving and storing the vehicle; along with producing a valid insurance within 14 days or the vehicle could be scrapped.
Is it worth the risk?
Being prosecuted for having no insurance is more than an inconvenience; it can turn a person’s whole life upside down. It brings otherwise hard working law abiding citizens into the realms of the criminal justice system. Although I have successfully represented many clients either through presenting a defence or avoiding a disqualification/revocation through arguments in mitigation, in most cases the whole prosecution could have easily been avoided.
I would advise anyone who is being Prosecuted for having no insurance to contact Forster Dean Solicitors’ driving offence helpline on 0333 323 1830 to speak to a specialist motoring lawyer who can identify whether defences or legal applications can be made in their case.
Article by Expert Motoring Lawyer, Alison Ashworth; Head of Motoring Law at Forster Dean Solicitors.