I’m only 20 and bought my first car earlier this year, a Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTi. I was recently stopped by the Police because I forgot to put my lights on, and they also checked over my car. They found a tuning box attached to the engine, something that I wasn’t aware was on it, and they say that I hadn’t declared the modification to my insurance company. Because of this, they say that I didn’t have valid insurance and are taking me to court for driving without insurance. Where do I stand? I’m a scared young girl, not a boy racer, and don’t understand about cars, and so wasn’t aware that this box was even fitted. What will happen to me? How can I prove that I didn’t know that the car had been modified by the previous owner? I have written to the previous owner, using the address on the car registration document, however, he hasn’t replied.
You do have valid motor insurance unless and until your insurers have taken steps to ‘void’ the insurance. Until last year, the circumstances in which an insurer could void the policy were more generous to insurers than they are now, but those circumstances have been clarified and should benefit you.
Since 6th April 2013, where insurance has been taken out by a ‘consumer’ (usually an individual) for personal use, insurers will not be able to void insurance for non-disclosure of facts, unless the insured had acted deliberately, recklessly or carelessly in giving the incorrect information. You do not say what questions you were asked about modifications, but given that you did not know of the modification or, probably from what you say, were not even aware of the nature of such devices, it would be hard to conclude that you had acted deliberately, recklessly or carelessly.
Although it would be helpful to have a statement from the person who sold you the car, confirming that he had not informed you of the modification, it is not strictly necessary. Once you confirm that you had no knowledge of the modification, it would be for the insurer, and the prosecution, if you were to be prosecuted for the offence of driving without insurance, to prove otherwise. The court would have to be satisfied that it was unlikely that you knew of the modification and on the information you have provided, I think the court would be so persuaded.
This legal protection applies to insurance taken out by ‘consumers’ for personal use, but would still protect you even if the motor insurance was partly for your business use, so long as the primary purpose was for personal use. It would be different if the insurance was wholly for your business use, such as a taxi driver. Had you been deliberate or reckless in providing false information, the insurer could have voided the policy, refused to pay out on any claims and in most cases kept the premiums paid.
If you had been careless in misrepresenting the position, the insurer’s remedy would depend on what the insurer would have done had there been no misrepresentation. If the insurer would not have entered into the contract on any terms, it could have voided the policy and refused all past and future claims, but it would have had to return the premium.
If the insurer would have imposed different terms (other than relating to premium), it could have treated the contract as if those terms applied. If, for instance, it would have included a particular exclusion and the claim fell within that exclusion, the insurer would not be obliged to pay the claim. Where the insurer would have charged a higher premium, any claim under the policy could be reduced proportionately.
I make these additional points for the sake of the wider readership interest, but in your case you should not be convicted of driving without insurance and indeed I would hope that when the Crown Prosecution Service considers the facts of the case, it will decide not to prosecute.
Designed by solicitors, tested by barristers and available around the clock, Road Traffic Representation is an online legal system that allows people accused of a motoring offence to get free advice on how the law will be applied in their case, and referral to a telephone helpline and representation by a barrister in court if required. Practising solicitor Martin Langan spent two years designing the system and creating the data repository which allows the software to analyse road traffic offences with the same authority as a solicitor.