Your rights if you're hit by an uninsured driver
British drivers can choose between three levels of car insurance:
Third-party cover: in the event of an accident, this protects third parties (drivers, pedestrians and other members of the public) if you injure them or damage their property. It provides no cover for your car.
Fully comprehensive cover: The highest level of cover, this extends TPFT to include damage to your own car in an accident, even if you are to blame.
Under British law, third-party cover is the bare minimum level of car insurance required to drive in the UK. If you drive a car without any insurance or a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification), then you are breaking the law. Nevertheless, with two million uninsured drivers roaming the UK's roads, increasing numbers of accidents involve these law-breakers.
Cracking down on uninsured vehicles
Driving without insurance carries a maximum fine of £5,000 and six to eight penalty points added to the offender's licence. Courts can also order the immediate disqualification of offenders.
Driving without insurance can be punished by the issue of a £200 fixed-penalty notice and six penalty points. The police have wide powers to stop vehicles and inspect insurance certificates, with 300,000 convictions for uninsured driving being handed out each year.
The police can also seize, dispose of and even destroy uninsured vehicles. Indeed, police officers confiscate around 1,500 uninsured vehicles each week. In addition, the Road Safety Act 2006 provides harsher sentences for those who kill or are involved in accidents while driving uninsured.
For the record, uninsured drivers are roughly 10 times more likely to have been convicted of drink-driving, five times more likely to have been involved in road traffic accidents, frequently drive carelessly or recklessly, and are more likely to have committed other criminal offences.
So what are your rights when you're involved in an accident with an uninsured driver? How do you go about getting your money back?
Was it your fault?
If an accident was entirely your fault (for instance, you hit another car from behind), then you can't seek reimbursement from the other driver, regardless of whether they have insurance or not.
If you have 'fully comp' insurance, then you should claim against this policy for repairs.
Unfortunately, this will mean paying an excess (often £100 or more) and, possibly, losing your no-claims discount. If you make an 'at fault' claim and lose your no-claims discount, then your next renewal premium could leap dramatically and stay higher for at least three more years.
Since 2004, Direct Line has operated an 'uninsured driver promise' for fully comprehensive policyholders. If you make a claim for an accident that is not your fault and the other vehicle is uninsured, then you won't lose your no-claims discount and Direct Line will refund your excess.
Last week, the AA -- the UK's biggest insurance broker -- made a similar promise. Any driver insured through the AA involved in an accident with an uninsured vehicle will no longer lose their excess and no-claims discount.
The uninsured driver is to blame
In theory, at-fault uninsured drivers are personally responsible for all damages and personal injuries they cause. In practice, people driving without insurance have few or no assets to meet these financial liabilities. So the chance of successful recovering damages from an uninsured driver is nearly zero.
Where can you turn to reclaim uninsured damages?
The Motor Insurers' Bureau
The Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) has been operating since 1946 and is funded by the UK's motor insurers and -- by extension -- insured, law-abiding motorists.
If you're involved in accident with an uninsured vehicle and forced to claim on your own insurance, then the MIB will compensate your insurer for the costs of your claim. Once this compensation has been received, your insurer should reinstate your no-claims discount and cancel any corresponding premium increase.
The MIB pays out compensation to those who suffer personal injury or damage to their property as a result of accidents involving uninsured motor vehicles. In effect, this agreement between the government and the MIB ensures that innocent victims of uninsured drivers don't lose out financially.
Then again, when a driver is untraced, the MIB can pay compensation for property damage only where the vehicle concerned has been identified. So if both driver and vehicle are not identified (such as in 'hit and run' accidents), then the MIB won't pay out for property damage, but will pay out personal-injury claims.
Driving up premiums
According to the MIB, more than one in 25 drivers on British roads (4%) is uninsured.
These offenders place a huge financial burden on other motorists, estimated to be £380 million each year. As a result, they add £30 to the typical yearly premium for car insurance.
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