What would Brexit do to motor insurance?

Posted by James Wood, 6th June 2016
When thinking about the Brexit debate, it struck me that if we do leave, then decades of caselaw on the rights of injured motorists could be at risk.

First of all, the European Union has issued six Motor Insurance Directives since 1972. The effect of these Directives is to harmonise the minimum standards for motor insurance across Europe. This means that a motorist from the UK can drive across the European Union knowing that his insurance will be legal in all the the Member States. Motorists are advised to “up” their insurance when they drive abroad, but the point is that everyone has the same minimum rights.

Secondly the European Directives have, over the years dramatically improved the rights of people hit by uninsured and untraced drivers. The present scheme in this country for compensating these people consists of a set of Agreements between the insurance industry and the UK government. Over the years, challenges to those Agreements in our courts and the European Court of Justice have meant that victims’ rights have been enhanced.

For instance, if you were a child victim of an untraced driver, you had to bring your claim within three years of the accident regardless of the fact that if you were suing a traced driver, limitation only began to run against you from your 18th birthday. That changed after the Court of Appeal decision in Byrne (A Minor) v The Motor Insurers Bureau and the Secretary Of State for Transport [2008] EWCA Civ 574.

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau pays out about £270 million a year to victims of untraced and uninsured drivers, some of whom will have suffered catastrophic injuries. Its members, the insurance industry have huge influence in Parliament. At present, the European Union stands as a guarantor of victims’ rights.

If Brexit happens – those victims could lose their guarantor and the UK will have to consider how to protect their rights.

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