The Motor Insurance Bureau currently estimates that there are approximately 1 Million uninsured drivers on UK roads. It is suggested that this number will rise over coming months owing to the substantial increases in premiums charged by insurance companies.
The law recognises that the offence of driving without insurance is a serious one and provides that an uninsured driver can either be handed a Fixed Penalty Notice, requiring their payment of £200 and endorsing their license with 6 penalty points or can be summonsed to court, where they can expect a fine up to £5,000 (determined by their means) and 6 to 8 points and possible disqualfication from driving.
Many will say that such penalties are appropriate for the person who drives without insurance, but what about the person who drives their car with the honest belief that they are insured, only to be stopped by a police officer and told that they are not.
As specialist road traffic solicitors, this is something which we see a lot and which is becoming more prevalent owing to the operation of ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition), which according to ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) currently check up to 14 million vehicles a day against the insurance database. So What happens if you are unkowingly caught driving without insurance?
The law says that if you drive a vehicle without insurance, you are guilty of this offence, whether you meant to or not. In legal terms this is known as a “strict liability” offence. This means that if you drive with no insurance, you are guilty of the offence and therefore that you should plead guilty.
To any sane person, this of course sounds wholly unfair, as why should the motorist who makes a genuine error be treated in the same way as someone who deliverately drives without insurance? Fortunately, the law does recognise this and gives the magistrates a discretion not to endorse a drivers license if they can demonstrate that there are “SPECIAL REASONS” for not doing so.
In the case of the person who has driven without insurance, the magistrates will exercise this discretion if it can be shown that the driver held a “genuine and honest” belief that he was insured and had “reasonable grounds” for believing that he was insured (Rennison v Knowler (1947)).
Having sucessfully avoided the endorsement of penalty points on the license of numerous drivers, found to be driving with no insurance, the easy part of this equation is showing that they had a “genuine and honest” belief. What is more difficult is demonstrating that the driver had “reasonable grounds”.
Having “reasonable grounds”, excludes mistakenly believing that you were insured. So for instance, if you incorrectly read your insurance policy and thought it insured you when it did not, the court would not regard this as reasonable and would not make a finding of special reasons not to endorse points on your license. Or put in the alternative, you would get points!
The courts will however, find reasonable grounds if you have been misled in someway to believe that you were insured or there was no way of you knowing that you weren’t insured. An example of this is where a young driver has been told by their parent that they have been insured on a car and the parent has made a mistake and not correctly insured their child. Having successfully represented many young drivers on this ground, it can be said that the courts, perhaps as parents themselves, often have sympathy and will find that the young driver’s belief was reasonable.
Another example and one which is becoming more common is where a driver’s insurance is cancelled without their knowledge. This can occur owing to various practices of insurance companies, including the cancellation of policies where proof of no claims is not provided, where a direct debit fails or simply by error. If you have not received any notification that your insurance has been cancelled, then you will have a strong case for avoiding the endorsement of penalty points.
To show that this can happen to anyone, I myself was recently renewing my vehicle excise license (car tax) on line, when a message informed me that I could not, as I did not have insurance. I immediately rang my insurance company who informed me that my insurance had been cancelled one week earlier. It transpired that despite sending me a letter informing me that my insurance would automatically renew, the insurance company had cancelled it in error. Had I been stopped by the police and prosecuted for the offence, I would have been able to argue for points not to be endorsed on the grounds of “special reasons”, as it was reasonable for me to believe I was insured.
If you find yourself in a similar predicament, if you receive a Fixed Penalty Notice or Summons, please contact us to discuss your case and your options. We provide a free initial telephone consultation.
Neil Davies, Principal Solicitor