This week the MET has run a one-day campaign targeting uninsured drivers. This is, apparently, the start of the new commissioner's "total policing" policy. Several hundred cars were impounded and the MET believe "that up to 80% of uninsured drivers are involved in other crimes". Makes one wonder why the uninsured haven't really been targeted before if it leads to other crimes in 80% of cases.
This all sounds good. Uninsured drivers cost the legal motorist dear. Not only in hikes in insurance premiums to cover the damage, but that uninsured drivers are 5 times more likely to be involved in an accident in the first place, and are much more likely to engage in unsafe and anti-social driving in the first place.
But, according to another report from the BBC in 2009, the scale of the issue of uninsured drivers is huge. From research covered in the report, it is estimated that 13% of drivers in Greater London are uninsured and at least 1.7M people drove without insurance in the UK. This isn't just a small minority of drivers, it is a significant section of private motorists on the road today.
The report has the CEO of the Motor Insurers' Bureau saying
"Indeed, the number of drivers across the UK who were caught without insurance last year would fill Wembley Stadium more than twice. The message to motorists is clear: driving uninsured is simply not worth the risk."
But let's consider the risk vs reward for a bit. From the article and a bit of google research, it appears that around 300,000 people get caught without insurance per year. The penalty for driving without insurance is 6 pts on the license and £200 fine, with the car impounded (presumably released upon payment of fine). The average cost of insurance in London is over £500 per year. When I enquired (I drive a company car so don't have private car insurance), my premium would be £700-£800 per year; I have a clean license with no accidents in 5 years and am approaching middle age. So, it looks like the vast majority of uninsured drivers don't get caught, and even if they are caught the penalty is significantly less than the yearly premium.
I don't subscribe to the view that all those without insurance are hardened criminals - we are talking about over 1 in 10 motorists. So many are making a calculated decision to drive illegally. And based on the information above, I can see why.
To deter illegal driving, one has to make the deterrent much more harsh, or make detection much easier, or both. And we have the means to do both. ANPR cameras can instantly detect illegal cars and drivers, and, as can be seen from the MET clampdown, can lead to more detection of crime than illegal motoring. So why doesn't it happen more? One could affix ANPR cameras in key locations (Stratford Gyratory would be one, A406 I believe already has some) and then station police to pull over cars on occasion to issue hefty fines and confiscate cars. If the illegal motorist knew that ANPR cameras were in operation at all times, police regularly used them, and the fines were hefty including confiscation of vehicles, I think attitudes may change. In urban areas such as Greater London, the sheer lawlessness of the roads, along with myopic transport policies, is allowing illegal activity to flourish whilst discouraging other transport alternatives.
The MET actions is a start. But a few hundred vehicles impounded, to be returned after a few points and a measly fine isn't going to have much impact at all. Maybe the "total policing" policy will spread and make our roads safer for other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. I hope it isn't simply a gimmick to raise the profile of an incoming commissioner.