As motorists slid about on the ice during January's cold snap, they were probably counting on an insurance company to cover the cost of any collision they might end up in. But it is an alarming fact that the UK has a steadily growing problem of uninsured motorists on the road--1.25 million at the last count--a phenomenon driven in part by the steadily increasing cost of cover.
The little-known Motor Insurers' Bureau was set up in 1946 by the insurance industry to broker agreements with the government over compensation for victims of uninsured and untraced ("hit-and-run") drivers. Legislation, most recently the Road Traffic Act 1988, requires every insurer underwriting compulsory motor insurance to be a member of the Bureau, and to fund its operations and payouts, now running at [pounds sterling]500m annually. Such is the problem of uninsured drivers that, in Liverpool, the Motor Insurers' Bureau is known as the city's biggest insurer.
Stung by the rising cost of running the Bureau, the Association of British Insurers has just launched tough new proposals to clamp down on the uninsured. The industry has also funded a database of insured drivers (required by EU law) to make it easier for the police to run spot-checks on drivers. And the Labour MP for Leigh, Andy Burnham, recently introduced a bill (unlikely to become law) requiring French-style insurance stickers--vignettes--to be carried on all car windscreens next to the tax disc. He told the Commons that 87 per cent of the public backed the idea. The government has asked the University of Nottingham to conduct a review of the issue.
One possible solution would be to move away from a system of liability towards one of "eligibility": drivers would be entitled to receive payouts provided that they were themselves insured. This would put an end to the situation of the uninsured, with a bad driving record, being able to coin it in if their vehicle is struck by an insured party. "Many people see this as a just alternative to the …