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Karl McCartney MP: It is time for a serious crackdown on uninsured drivers

McCartney Karl Karl McCartney is MP for Lincoln and a former magistrate.

Sometimes it can be the issues that never make the front pages or receive little, if any, scrutiny or discussion in Parliament that prove to be the most irksome to both my, and most other MP’s, constituents. They can undermine and shake people’s belief in the rule of law and a responsible society. Many of these issues "wind me up" as well, it’s perhaps one of the reasons I wanted to be a MP – to try and do something about those things that are a constant irritant.

One issue that I and many others fume over and needs further attention is that of dealing with uninsured drivers.  The problem is so symptomatic and prevalent in our society that one insurer now offers a policy that pays out as a fully comprehensive claim if you are hit by an uninsured driver! What does that say about our society and our police and court systems?

There is nothing more galling to have been in a road accident even if it’s a bump, or a prang, where you are the victim but the driver who has caused it is uninsured.  Often, they will also give false details (often many are involved in other types of crime as well) leaving you to fume further as you fill out the Motor Insurance Bureau forms. This, on top of dealing with the inconvenience of the accident, having to pay for repairs yourself, possibly to then claim back and then finding out you may lose your no claims bonus as well.

It makes every law-abiding driver’s blood boil and undermines the rule of law and people’s belief that playing by the rules is right.  Police need to respond with a more caring and businesslike approach to such incidences, my own, and many others’, experience falls desperately short of such positive action.  Using their extensive data systems, and presuming the number plate registration was not false, they should make every effort to track down these illegal drivers.  Most often those without insurance have a triple whammy of being untaxed and un-MOT’d too.  All too often as a magistrate it is the expected list of misdemeanours and we aren’t usually surprised by such an assumption.

I wish this was a rare problem but according to the latest Motor Insurance Bureau research in my own county of Lincolnshire there are 26,000 uninsured drivers, and 1.5 million in the country as a whole. This comes with a £500 million price tag, adds at least £30.00 (as a very conservative estimate) to everyone’s car insurance and 23,000 people are injured and 160 killed every year by those with no insurance.  Overall, this is circa 1.5 million people thumbing their nose to the rule of law, who do not care about the consequences of their actions, or care about their responsibilities to their fellow drivers.

The police are seizing 180,000 vehicles per year and 194,000 people were convicted in court for uninsured driving, a conviction every three minutes but even with the level of delinquency falling, are seizure, points and fines enough?

When the average fine is a pathetic £185 (2006), a figure that has actually fallen from £224 in 1997, and insurance costs being so high nowadays (increasing by 11% per year according to the AA) that the average comprehensive insurance cost is £700, you can see why some may think having no insurance is worth the risk.  Being caught three times a year is unlikely, hence the risk so many are willing to undertake, it is an economic calculation that many miscreants work out for themselves. 

But if the vehicle was not returned to the owner/s unless the (increased) fine was paid and proof of insurance, tax and MOT was provided within one week, then it should be forfeited and sold on to raise funds either to offset taxpayer costs or for a general ‘pot’ to aid law abiding drivers.  That might be an incentive for possible and repeat offenders to realise that insurance, tax and MOT are a basic requirement before you can use the road system in this country with a vehicle you have purchased or even ‘borrowed’.

As a JP it hasn’t just been the fact that your hands are tied by the imposed rules when laying down punishments, the problem is that it is the same old faces coming before the court having been caught time and time again. On many occasions they have also been involved in an accident.  Their mind-set needs addressing.

It is now time to take the gloves off.  There simply has to be a minimum fine put in place which costs far more than the average cost of insuring a car.  I am not interested either in the ability to pay issue, if you can’t afford the fine, don’t drive an uninsured car.  How did such perpetrators manage to purchase the car in the first place?  The answer for many young (mostly male) plaintiffs is that they have a share in a sporty uninsured car – so each vehicle has three or four uninsured drivers utilising it as a form of transportation, and often for criminal activities aside from having no tax, insurance or being MOT’d.  This is a problem that needs a solution, soon.

In addition, those caught continually need to see the fines and points ratcheted up further, and then if they continue, then a custodial sentence has to be a real option.

For far too long, politicians have turned a blind eye towards the issue of dealing with uninsured drivers, even though it undermines confidence in the justice system and penalises the law-abiding.  Throughout this Parliament I will be pressing for increases in appropriate punishments for such crimes, we cannot have these people laughing at those who act responsibly and within the laws of this land anymore.


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