The Daily Mail: Courts Under Fire For Reducing Penalities On Uninsured Drivers

Monday, 31 March, 2008

Courts were accused of going soft on uninsured drivers yesterday after figures showed that the average fine has fallen by more than a fifth since Labour came to power.

Those convicted of driving while uninsured were fined an average of £177 in 2005 compared with £224 in 1997.

The figures, produced by the Home Office, also show that the number of uninsured motorists brought before the courts has fallen since 1997 - despite more drivers being willing to flout the law.

The number of cases against uninsured drivers fell from 397,133 in 1997 to 392,763 in 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available.

David Ruffley , Tory spokesman on the police, who uncovered the data, blamed the fall in prosecutions on police being bound up by red tape and bureaucracy.

But he said the courts had no such excuse.

Mr Ruffley said: 'Driving uninsured is often a sign of more serious criminality.

'But, amazingly, the courts are passing derisory penalties. What are they thinking?'

Mr Ruffley demanded tougher penalties. 'Uninsured drivers are the scourge of the roads,' he said. 'The Association of British Insurerssays that they are ten times more likely to have convictions for drink-driving and are six times more likely to be behind the wheel of an unroadworthy vehicle.

'On top of that, the cost of uninsured drivers adds an extra £25 to £30 to the average annual car insurance premium.'

The average fine of £177 for uninsured driving is barely a fifth of the average cost of buying comprehensive insurance, which, according to the AA is £833.

The latest Government figures estimate there are more than two million vehicles on the road which are uninsured.

This means that almost one motorist in 15 is driving without cover. Uninsured drivers are also said by the insurance industry to cause 375,000 accidents a year.

Most are poor, among them young men and new immigrants desperate to get on the road, but unwilling to pay average costs of £400 for insurance.

The Department for Transport said last October that there was a rise of 100,000 uninsured drivers in just one year - with the total figure amounting to 6.5 per cent of all vehicles in the UK.

Earlier this year, the threat of jail was effectively lifted from drivers who kill while at the wheel without a licence or insurance.

New rules for judges said that those among the army of illegal drivers on the road who cause death should normally escape with a community punishment.

Even repeat offenders, who have a previous conviction for going unlicensed or without insurance, can avoid imprisonment under the instructions for the courts on how to deal with drivers at fault in fatal accidents.

The ruling was handed down by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, the body that sets punishment benchmarks for judges and magistrates.

The community punishment rule applies to new motoring laws that for the first time introduce a charge of causing death by driving unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured.

It carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail. Yet the courts were told that only those who kill when on the road while they are banned from driving will necessarily go to prison.