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Is jail needed to curb uninsured drivers?

A rise in the fine for driving without insurance from £200 to £300 won't work, say campaigners. Is the threat of jail a more effective deterrent?

A prison jail cell

The fixed penalty fine for driving without insurance will rise by 50 per cent in August - from £200 to £300.

The increase comes at the same time as new fines for middle-lane hogging and tailgating are introduced.

But a leading motorists' group says that the £100 rise in the fine for driving without cover will have no impact on repeat offenders.

Fines dwarfed by car insurance premiums

According to the AA, many make a financial decision to drive without car insurance rather than pay annual premiums that dwarf any fines imposed by police or the courts.

In such cases, prison sentences should be considered, the AA says.

Simon Douglas, director of AA insurance, said: "Offenders may be sent to court because of the seriousness of their offence or elect to do so.

"Although the maximum fine available is £5,000, this has never been imposed.

"It is means-tested, which means that the average fine is £299 - just under the new £300 fixed penalty."

And Douglas added that in 2012 more than half of court fines imposed for driving without insurance were £200 or less.

£300 fine versus £2,493 car insurance cost

By way of comparison, men aged between 17 and 20 face average annual premiums of around £2,493.

This is according to the latest Watson car insurance price index, which looked at more than four million quotes to see what prices drivers were getting for cover between April and June 2013.

Those aged 21 to 25 paid an average of £1,369 a year for cover.

Douglas said: "Many uninsured drivers are young men who may already have several motoring offences to their name."

But the potential fines act as little deterrent, he added.

"For the habitual offender who is used to the inside of a courtroom this is hardly a disincentive," Douglas added.

He continued that this was the case especially when such offenders "can easily obtain another cheap banger for cash, no questions asked, and continue offending".

Bradford hotspot for uninsured drivers

David Ward, MP for Bradford East, which has one of the highest rates of uninsured drivers in the UK, said that simply increasing fines was unlikely to be effective.

He said: "When the court sets these charges, they have to bear in mind whether a person can afford it.

"The fine could be £3 million rather than £300: but if they can't pay it, they can't pay it."

The UK is thought to have the highest incidence of uninsured drivers in Europe.

1 in 25 motorists in Britain drive without insurance

One in 25 motorists in Britain drives without cover compared with one in 500 in Germany and one in 1,000 in Sweden.

This is according to estimates by the Motor Insurers' Bureau, the organisation responsible for compensating motorists who have been involved in accidents with uninsured drivers

Around 160 people a year are killed by uninsured drivers in England and Wales, with thousands more injured, according to road safety organisation Brake.

The AA wants the government to take a much tougher line with uninsured drivers, particularly those who offend time and again.

Is prison the way to tackle uninsured drivers?

The AA says that in extreme cases the courts should impose electronic tags or prison sentences.

Douglas said that ministers should increase the number of police patrols equipped with automatic number plate-recognition technology, which is used to identify vehicles without insurance, an MoT, or tax.

"Large fines for those who can't pay them are not effective," he continued. 

"But if uninsured drivers know they'll quickly be caught then that will act as a big disincentive.

"We need a tough, no-compromise approach to uninsured drivers which should include community service."

However, Bradford East MP David Ward is less convinced that prison is the answer.

He said: "The problem with custodial sentences is that our prisons are full enough as they are.

"But there is a strong case for saying that the fines from uninsured drivers should be given to the police so they can upgrade their vehicles with this number plate-recognition technology."

'Forgetful' drivers could be caught out

There are concerns that a tougher approach could hit motorists who are driving uninsured as a result of their own error.

Jeanette Miller is a motor lawyer and senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors

She said: "I come across many drivers who inadvertently commit the offence of driving without insurance through sheer forgetfulness or disorganisation rather than any intent to break the law.

"The offence is one of strict liability – either you are insured or you are not.

"Therefore it does not distinguish between someone who changed bank accounts and forgot to move their insurance direct debit and the serial offender."

Miller added that it would be difficult for the courts to bring intention into the equation.

This would require prosecutors to establish that a defendant had deliberately chosen to drive without cover.

Miller said: "As long as there is no distinction between offenders of this kind, I think the increase in the fixed penalty fine is as far as it should go."

What do you think?

What's the best way to tackle uninsured drivers: fines, imprisonment, or is there another way?

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Chris Torney

Chris Torney

Chris is the former personal finance editor at the Daily Express. He's been a journalist for more than 10 years and contributes to a wide range of finance and business titles.Read more from Chris

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