David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner
It’s that moment you dread. You’re driving along minding your own business (and maybe going a little too fast on the motorway if you haven’t been concentrating) and suddenly, an explosion of blue flashing lights fills your rear view mirror.
Heart in mouth you involuntarily dab the brakes while checking the speedo. Hopefully, the patrol car will shoot straight past in pursuit of someone else.
I’ve been ‘pulled’ three or four times during my driving ‘career’ – most recently in New York State when driving a motorhome the size of a London bus – and it can be a heart-stopping moment.
In the States they don’t do anything by halves and two patrol cars zoomed after me, lit up like Christmas trees. It turned out I’d joined a ‘Parkway’ – dual carriageways that snake through scenic parts of the US, and that are usually banned to trucks, and Recreational Vehicles (RVs) as the Americans call them.
I had been warned to avoid them but in our haste we hadn’t spotted the signs, so they had us bang to rights. I did what you should always do; I was polite and ate humble pie. The friendly policemen directed us off the parkway and onto a maze of minor local roads – doubling our already substantial journey time back to New York city.
Now a new survey now shows that British motorists think they can talk their way out of almost anything when they’re stopped… including being prosecuted for driving uninsured. But it’s not true.
The research by Churchill Car Insurance reveals that nearly three quarters of retired traffic police (who are presumably freer to speak their minds than serving officers) say that in an emergency situation the decision to penalise is at the officer’s discretion.
The retired officers say that while many drivers believe they can get away with not having cover by providing an excuse, the police have heard it all before.
‘Excuses’ offered to police have included ‘the car drives perfectly well without it’ to ‘it was my husband’s car. He is dead but he is still insured.’ One motorist was driving a Lamborghini and claimed they were covered on a third party extension of their insurance policy for a Nissan Micra, which when investigated was shown to be wholly insufficient.
Police report the top three reasons drivers do not have insurance are not knowing that they were uninsured (38%), poor administrative capabilities when it comes to renewing policies (33%) while in more than one in eight (13%) cases, police officers believed the driver had deliberately driven without insurance, attributing the offence to criminal behaviour.
A quarter (25 per cent) of former traffic officers reported a problem with international drivers not understanding UK insurance laws, such as not knowing that the driver has to be named on the insurance policy. The respondents highlighted that drivers from Eastern Europe often believe that it is the car that it is insured not the person.
Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of the former traffic police officers said that in an emergency situation the decision to penalise is at the traffic officer’s discretion. Over a third (36 per cent) identified ‘a partner giving birth’ as a situation where they would not penalise a driver for being behind the wheel uninsured. But don’t take that as excuse to try it on…
As Churchill points out, driving uninsured is a serious offence that hits the pockets of motorists who comply with the law.
Says Steve Barrett, head of car insurance at Churchill, “Our research demonstrates the need for education about the risks of driving without insurance, particularly for tourists and international drivers. Many motorists claim ignorance as an excuse, but it is up to everyone getting behind the wheel to make sure they are protected as it is the driver’s responsibility to know the laws.”