Specialist motoring defence lawyer, Conor Johnstone explains the importance of car insurance and how honest motorists may be caught out
Driving without insurance is a common issue in the UK. It’s estimated that there are still around one million uninsured drivers on British roads in 2016, and while this is a substantial amount, it’s a serious reduction on the reported two million that were present back in 20051.
One of the driving factors behind the improvement is the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology by the police. However uninsured drivers still remain one of the biggest problems on British roads, with thousands of drivers found guilty of the offence and banned each year. In fact, driving without insurance is reportedly the number one cause of license loss for new drivers2.
Whilst it’s true that there are many out there who intentionally do not insure their cars – for instance young drivers whose premiums may be unaffordable – it’s also common for drivers to be unknowingly uninsured. This could happen, for instance, if an insurance policy is cancelled by the insurer or fails to automatically renew, and the driver remains unaware before using the vehicle in question. An ANPR system could then register the vehicle’s license plate as belonging to an uninsured vehicle, and the driver could be apprehended by the police and convicted.
Driving without insurance – the law
Driving without insurance is a serious criminal offence, and it is treated as such by the police and by the courts. The law is simple: it is illegal to drive a vehicle that does not at least have third party insurance as a minimum. Driving without insurance typically carries a penalty of between 6 and 8 points, and a fine of up to £5,000. The Magistrate’s Court also has the ability to impose an immediate ban of up to 12 months.
What can be less straightforward, however, are the circumstances in which people are found to be guilty of driving without insurance. As mentioned before, it’s not unusual for situations to arise in which a driver is actually unaware that their car is uninsured. In fact, it is even possible for the police computer system to mistakenly show a vehicle as having no insurance when a valid policy is actually in place (this can be common when a vehicle is covered under a fleet insurance or motor trader policy).
What to do if you’re accused
If accused of driving without insurance – whether on the roads by police or via a Fixed Penalty Notice – many feel that their only option is to simply accept the charge and plead guilty. However it is possible to defend a charge of driving without insurance with the help of a specialist solicitor. Whilst there is never any guarantee of how successful any legal defence may be, there is often be enough of a case to warrant a reduction in penalty, if not avoid one altogether.
For example, if you have committed the offence unknowingly – or if you do not believe that you have committed the offence at all – then you may have a full defence to the allegation, or a special reasons argument (discussed below).
In circumstances where you have been wrongfully accused – i.e. you did have a valid motor insurance policy in place at the time of the offence – then the court should drop the charges against you, provided you can prove that you had valid cover. It’s worth bearing in mind here that failing to produce evidence of insurance is a separate offence to driving without insurance.
The ‘special reasons’ argument
‘Special reasons’ is not technically a legal defence, but it does give the court discretion not to impose any penalty whatsoever. You must enter a guilty plea before raising a special reason, as you must accept that the offence has been committed. Examples of special reasons may include (but are not limited to):
- A failure by your insurance provider to notify you of a policy cancellation
- Errors made by the insurance provider resulting in a null/void policy (or no policy being in force)
- A person being informed by the owner of a vehicle or policy holder that she can drive the vehicle legally
- A person having a genuine reason to believe he or she is insured, even if they are not.
You will not be penalised further for presenting a special reasons argument, even if it is rejected by the court.
It is always in your interests to seek the advice of an experienced specialist solicitor before taking any action – especially if you are intending to challenge the allegation. As straightforward as it may seem to present a special reasons argument in court, there is always a great deal of planning and research required beforehand. It will also be necessary to gather relevant evidence to support your argument, which is best done by a qualified and experienced lawyer.