Your car insurance isn't as comprehensive as you think

Updated on 18 October 2011 | 7 Comments

No claims discount protection is a vital lifeline for anyone who has been hit by an uninsured driver. But as Robert Powell finds out, the details you have to provide to make a successful claim could, in many cases, render the protection completely useless.

One in ten of us have been in a collision with an uninsured driver. This often results in the honest motorist being forced to claim off their own insurance policy, paying a hefty excess and losing any no claims discount.

Car insurers have reacted to this growing trend by introducing no claims discount protection to many comprehensive policies. Figures from Defaqto show that 17% of comprehensive policies now include this enhanced cover.

However in order to take advantage of this protection you, in most cases, have to provide concise details of the uninsured driver. But this attractive-looking protection can often be rendered useless thanks to the tendency of uninsured drivers to either flee the scene or lie about their details when involved in a collision.

Uninsured driver promise

Most of the major car insurers offer some form of no claims discount protection scheme.

RBS currently operates three of the largest car insurers: Churchill, Direct Line and Prudential. All three of these providers offer an ‘uninsured driver promise’ guaranteeing the protection of your no claims discount and no excess if you make a claim for an accident caused by an uninsured driver. This feature is included in all comprehensive policies.

Aviva has a near identical protection scheme within its comprehensive cover.

The enhanced comprehensive cover offered by esure is slightly different as it protects the no claims discount, but an excess is still payable if a customer is hit by an uninsured driver.

So far so good, but as ever – the devil is in the detail.

Getting the facts

Churchill, Direct Line and Prudential all state that to make an uninsured driver claim you must provide the law-breaking driver’s registration number, the make and model of the car and – if possible – the driver’s contact details, as well as the contact details of any witnesses.

Basically they need to identify the uninsured driver and be positive that the collision was their fault. As the cover literature for the three insurers states; “once we confirm that the accident was the fault of the uninsured driver, we will repay your excess, restore your no claims discount and refund any extra premium you have paid” [emphasis mine].

Aviva go one step further, stating on their website that to make an uninsured driver claim you will definitely need to provide the vehicle make, model and registration as well as the law-breaking driver’s details.

Esure also state that the driver of the uninsured vehicle must be identified to make a successful claim. However the insurer says that it is rare occurrence that they cannot identify an uninsured driver.

But according to research carried out by Direct Line – an insurer that actually offers this no claims protection – identifying an uninsured driver and confirming that they were at fault is certainly no easy task.

Hit and run drivers

Figures show that in 17% of collisions, the uninsured driver did not stop and fled the scene. In these cases the honest motorist will obviously not be able to obtain the personal information of the uninsured driver and will only have a limited chance to take down the number plates, make and model of the car at fault.

Either way, confirming the identity and guilt of the law-breaking motorist will be very difficult and hence render the no claims protection virtually useless.

What’s more, the Direct Line stats show that of those uninsured drivers that did stop, 32% lied and said they were insured, while 23% tried ‘not to get the insurers involved’.

Indeed, even if an uninsured driver did stop after a collision, confirming their genuine identity and guilt for an enhanced protection claim could still prove very tricky.

Avoid being caught out

The major and obvious way to avoid being left out of pocket by an uninsured driver is to ensure you take down as many details as possible about any collision. This includes all personal details of the uninsured driver and their passengers, the car make, model and registration number as well as the names and numbers of any witnesses. Taking a photo of the scene and any damage to the vehicles is also a good idea.

If you have comprehensive car insurance you will almost always (policies always have some exclusions) be able to make claim for damage to your vehicle, even if you’re hit by an uninsured driver. However, as I’ve mentioned, you will lose your no claims discount and have to pay an excess if you cannot identify the law-breaking motorist.

If you’re only on third party cover and are hit by an uninsured driver, you won’t get anything from your insurer. However you could still make a claim through the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), a not-for-profit organisation funded by car insurers that compensates the victims of collisions with negligent drivers.

But again, the MIB will need to establish fault on the part of the uninsured driver. So you will need to provide a good range of evidence from the scene. An excess of £300 is also payable when you make a claim and you may not receive your compensation for several months (or longer if a court case is required).

Head to the MIB website for more information.

A good start

As I reported back in May, the government has responded to the increasing problem of uninsured drivers by introducing new legislation making it a criminal offence to keep an uninsured vehicle. The authorities can now fine you £100 and even have your vehicle destroyed if you refuse to insure it or declare it off the road.

This should reduce the impact of uninsured drivers on honest motorists. But it is just a start. Tougher penalties for law-breaking drivers are really needed. Currently driving without insurance will land you with a fine of around £150. That’s half the excess payable to the MIB by an honest motorist for a claim against an uninsured driver. And around one sixth the average annual premium for comprehensive cover. Hardly fair.

Is it any wonder that in the face of ballooning premiums – caused in part by uninsured drivers – many stretched but stupid motorists are now deciding to shun expensive insurance and simply risk a relatively paltry £150 fine if they are caught without cover?

Driving without insurance is not a cheap route round high premiums. The government needs to make that clear.

Your experiences

Have you ever been hit by an uninsured driver?

Tell us about your experiences using the comment box below.

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