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Driving in 2012: New laws, telematics and more price rises?

A car at the coastLast year was tough for drivers: more price rises, a few law changes and big headlines for the car-insurance industry. So will 2012 be just as eventful? We look at what’s coming up and how it might affect you.

Gender ruling

This is likely to be one of the big stories of 2012 with a new law that could revolutionise the insurance industry coming in at the end of the year.

In 2011 European judges ruled that pricing insurance based on gender was unlawful, and banned it.

Now the whole insurance industry is preparing to overhaul its pricing system before the law changes in December 2012.

Everything from car insurance to annuities will be affected, with women drivers likely to see a jump of as much as 25 per cent in motor premiums.

We could see prices start to rise earlier than December as insurers attempt to smooth the transition.

Car insurance prices

As a result of eye-watering motor premiums, the Office for Fair Trading has announced an investigation into how the car insurance industry operates, which will continue into 2012.

Insurance costs for every driver have soared this year. The most recent Towers Watson car insurance price index revealed a rise of 12 per cent across the UK.

Blame for this has commonly fallen on the rise in the costs associated with personal injury claims.

However, the increased cost of third party non-injury claims, which include credit hire replacement vehicles and third party vehicle repairs, are also factors that will be investigated.

The OFT’s initial research suggested that it “has reasonable grounds for suspecting that there are features of the UK's private motor insurance market that restrict and distort competition”.

The investigation is expected to last until spring 2012 and will be referred to the Competition Commission if it is thought that insurers are not acting in the best interests of Britain’s drivers.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has welcomed the investigation.

Nick Starling, ABI’s Director of General Insurance, said: "The industry has long said that there are unnecessary costs in the system and that there are inefficiencies that need to be addressed - from personal injury to credit hire to credit repair - and we are pleased that the OFT have recognised this in their report.”

Petrol prices

At the time of writing, the average cost of unleaded per litre was 132.52p and diesel was at 141.09p.

The prediction is that prices will fall over the first few months of 2012 and the government announced in November that it was scrapping the planned 3p rise in fuel duty for January.

The duty was set to rise by 3p next month and a further 2p next August, but will now only rise by 3p in August.

Chancellor, George Osborne, said this will save the average family would save £144 a year on filling up their car. But evidence suggests that the rising costs of motoring are taking their toll.

Drivers priced off the roads

Despite some more positive news for petrol prices, the statistics still look gloomy.

Department for Transport statistics show that vehicle levels on UK roads have fallen consistently for the three years, the first time this has happened since 1949, when records began.

In 2010, the overall motor vehicle traffic volume in Great Britain was 1.6 per cent lower than in 2009.

This follows a 1 per cent year on year fall between 2008 and 2009, and a 0.8 per cent fall between 2007 and 2008. The high cost of motoring is blamed for the drop in the number of drivers.

What’s in store for young drivers?

Of all motorists, young drivers have once again been hardest hit. Car insurance costs in particular have soared for those aged between 17 and 25.

Recent Watson figures show that the average premium cost for a young male is now £2,432 a year.

The gender ruling will see prices between young men and women drivers level out, with female motor premiums more likely to rise in order to close the gap.

But overall, there isn’t much chance of a respite for the younger drivers in the UK as insurers still look to price based on risk.

New laws to make roads safer

A big theme for in 2011 was road safety.

It’s widely accepted that cutting accident rates, especially among young drivers, will reduce car insurance costs in the long run. As a result, 2012 could see some changes to the way we learn to drive.

Road-safety minister Mike Penning has already announced that learners will be able to take to the motorways in 2012, but only in driving lessons and if a qualified instructor accompanies them.

And now there are calls to ban intensive driving tests. Brake is also continuing to campaign for a graduated driving licence.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is supporting a similar idea, which would see a minimum one-year learning period.

A spokesman said: “Introducing a longer and more structured learning period may frustrate some youngsters, eager to get behind the wheel. But better this, than they become another tragic statistic.” 

However, despite moves toward radical changes, these are likely to be long-term plans and the government seems reluctant to hastily enforce anything that would unfairly penalise new drivers.

A speed limit shake up

Back on October 2011 the government announced its intention to review the UK motorway speed limit.

The Department for Transport wants to raise the current 70mph to 80mph to help bring the huge proportion of drivers who currently exceed 70, back on the right side of the law.

The move is also intended to get traffic moving and bring the current law into date.

Transport Secretary at the time Phillip Hammond said: "I want to make sure that our motorway speed limit reflects the reality of modern vehicles and driving conditions, not those of 50 years ago.”

A consultation period is underway and if the move is supported it could be enforced by 2013 with major decisions being made this year, so keep your eyes on the headlines.

The rise of the ‘smart box’

Expect 2012 to be a big year for telematics. If you don’t know what this is, read on.

To curb car insurance costs, some insurers are now offering drivers a ‘black box’, which will monitor in-car behaviour and driving habits, and reward good drivers with lower premiums.

Things like speed, braking and acceleration are monitored and drivers displaying good skills can benefit. The boxes generally feed data back to a computer, which produces a report to help set premiums.

This technology is primarily aimed at young drivers – some boxes even set a curfew and will fine out-of-hours driving – but older drivers could benefit from telematics too as premiums continue to rise.

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Lois Avery

Lois Avery

Lois joined in 2010 after working for Dyson and as a local newspaper reporter in Wiltshire. After a year writing financial journalism at, Lois won the 2011 'most promising newcomer' at the BIBA journalist of the year awards.

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