The Manchester Evening News has now noticed that fines for driving without insurance do not usually come anywhere near the cost of actually insuring the vehicle - Uninsured drivers in Greater Manchester fined LESS than the cost of insurance. The article states that the average fine in Greater Manchester was £256 or three times less than the average cost of insurance. No doubt this picture will be replicated nationally. The dilemma the court faces is that any financial penalty it can properly impose on the relatively feckless offender is usually substantially below the cost of insurance.
DirectGov states that there are around two million uninsured drivers on British roads and that they add some £380 million to the overall insurance bill paid by honest drivers.
In July 2004 a report by Professor Greenway of Nottingham University made a number of recommendations including introduction of the power to impound. In relation to sentencing, recommendations 18, 19 and 20 are noteworthy:
Recommendation 18: Sentencing guidelines for Magistrates should be revised to require a minimum fine for uninsured driving which exceeds the fixed penalty. (Not implemented)
Recommendation 19: A review should be undertaken of the non-fiscal penalties which could be made available to Magistrates in dealing with uninsured drivers. (Not implemented and, since the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act s.11, it is not permissible to impose a community sentence unless the offence is imprisonable).
The actual offence is to be found in Part VI of the Road Traffic Act 1988 - section 143 and is triable summarily. The maximum sentence is a fine of Level 5 (currently £5000) with 6 to 8 Penalty points and Disqualification is also a possibility. However, Fixed Penalty Notices are possible - see Road Traffic Act 1988 section 144C. The fixed penalty is currently set at £200 but 6 penalty points are also awarded.
The section 143 offence requires the prosecutor to prove that the defendant used (or caused or permitted another person to use) a vehicle on a road or other public place. Having done that, it is for the defence to prove (on the balance of probabilities) that the use was covered by insurance (or a relevant security).
The offence can be committed in a very wide range of circumstances from the conscientious individual who (after years of proper insurance) overlooked the need to renew or believed on reasonable (but mistaken) grounds the use was covered to the individual who deliberately chooses not to insure, probably because he perceives the cost of insurance to be so high and the possibility of detection so low that he considers it a risk worth taking.
If a case goes to the Magistrates' Court then the Magistrates Court Sentencing Guidelines will apply - see page 130. The starting point for sentence is a Band C fine and the range is also Band C. The guidelines list various aggravating and mitigating features. Notes at the end of the guideline state:
Consider range from 7 points – 2 months disqualification where vehicle was being driven and no evidence that the offender has held insurance.
Consider disqualification of 6 – 12 months if evidence of sustained uninsured use and/or involvement in accident.
Band C fines:
This is set by the guidelines at 150% of "Relevant Weekly Income" (RWI). However, Band C can be in the range 125% to 175% of RWI.
The seriousness of an offence determines the choice of fine band and the position of the offence within the range for that band. The offender’s financial circumstances are taken into account by expressing that position as a proportion of the offender’s relevant weekly income.
Where an offender is in receipt of income from employment or is self-employed and that income is more than £110 per week after deduction of tax and national insurance (or equivalent where the offender is self-employed), the actual income is the relevant weekly income.
Where an offender’s only source of income is state benefit (including where there is relatively low additional income as permitted by the benefit regulations) or the offender is in receipt of income from employment or is self-employed but the amount of income after deduction of tax and national insurance is £110 or less, the relevant weekly income is deemed to be £110.
In calculating relevant weekly income, no account should be taken of tax credits, housing benefit, child benefit or similar.
Thus, assuming an offender with income £200 per week then the Band C fine is in the range £250 to £350.
When a fine is imposed, the "Surcharge" must also be imposed. From 1st October 2012, under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Surcharge) Order 2012, this will be 10 per cent of the value of the fine (rounded up or down to the nearest pound but it must be no less than £20 and no more than £120). Thus,when the fine is in the range £250 to £350 an additional £25 to £35 will be ordered by way of surcharge.
In March 2012, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was scathing of the Ministry of Justice efforts in relation to collection of fines - report. The report said - Over the last five years, whilst the Ministry has increased the monies collected through fines, the amount outstanding has increased even more. HM Courts and Tribunals Service needs to improve its collection rates and should focus in particular on the timeliness of collection given that it is easier to collect fines nearer the time of imposition. At the time of the report the amount of money outstanding from fines imposed by courts was growing and stood at over £600 million.
The offence of keeping an uninsured vehicle:
For this offence see the Road Traffic Act 1988 section 144A (and 144B for exceptions). If a motor vehicle registered under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 does not meet the insurance requirements, the person in whose name the vehicle is registered is guilty of an offence.
See the Motor Vehicles (Insurance Requirements)(Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal) Regulations 2011 and the Department for Transport announcement of 18th April 2011.
All in all, a bleak picture!
Note: The offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 s3ZB of causing death by driving when unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured and see what the Crown Prosecution Service says about it. Also note R v Williams  EWCA Crim 2552
Earlier posts - 3rd November 2010 Uninsured drivers beware and 5th July 2011 Road Traffic: Causing death offences