A lot of factors are blamed for the dramatic increase in the cost of car insurance over the past two years and while some are questionable at best, there is no doubt that the increase in uninsured drivers is an issue. There is now a renewed focus on uninsured drivers and, combined with a recent Court of Appeal decision, the risks of driving without insurance are greater than ever.
The economic turmoil of the past few years and the huge increase in the cost of car insurance, particularly for young drivers, has led to more uninsured drivers on the road. We often see cases of drivers who have secured work after a period of unemployment, for example, but who cannot afford their premium and who opt to “take a chance” by driving to work without insurance, rather than lose the job opportunity. A gamble like this has become even riskier.
The consequences of driving without insurance have always been serious. If an uninsured driver is involved in a collision any claim arising out of it is paid for under the Mibi Agreement between the insurance industry and the government, but the Mibi can pursue that driver for the full value of the claim. This can affect the financial and credit position of the driver for years afterward. In the short term the fines, penalties and disqualification that can be imposed can severely affect a driver’s life and employment prospects – and while the need to work often saved drivers from disqualification, this is no longer a reliable reason to avoid a ban.
A conviction for driving without insurance carries a fine of up to €5,000 and 5 penalty points but what is often forgotten is the automatic disqualification from driving for at least two years. The law allows a court to take into account a “special reason” not to disqualify in the case of a first offence and traditionally the risk of losing employment was accepted as such a special reason. However, in October 2016 the Court of Appeal put this into doubt. In the Skillington case the driver involved argued that:
Disqualification would result in exceptional hardship: [his] right to earn a livelihood would be impaired and there is a possibility of the company going out of business. If that happened not only would his life and the lives of his family members be severely affected but so too would the lives of others who would also experience hardship.
A plea of this nature is often made as evidence of a special reason not to disqualify a driver. However, in this case the Director of Public Prosecutions argued that a special reason must be one which is rare or unusual, and there is nothing unusual in the fact that disqualification from driving will give rise to employment difficulties.
Mr Justice Birmingham agreed, and while he did uphold the discretion of a Court to decide whether or not to disqualify a driver he said that:
Difficulties of an employment nature will, of themselves and in isolation rarely, if ever, amount to special reasons.
The circumstances in which the driver committed the offence, therefore, are more important than the driver’s background circumstances in deciding whether or not to impose a disqualification. In effect the decision tightens the conditions under which a driver can escape disqualification for driving without insurance.
It is all the more important to ensure that you are covered by a policy of insurance whenever you drive, and that you ensure that the small print of the policy does not put your cover into question.
We have decades of experience in representing drivers when charged with motor insurance offences and other Road Traffic Act prosecutions. Contact us for advice and representation in Limerick and North Kerry.