Robert Pierse, in the introduction to the section on motor insurance in his book “Road Traffic Law” quotes David Yates, writing about insurance in the Sunday Times:- “an insurance policy is like old underwear.  The gaps in its cover are only shown by accident”.

To avoid the serious and often expensive consequences of discovering, after an accident, that you are not fully or properly insured it is no harm to look at some aspects of the Law relating to motor insurance in Ireland.

Obligation to have insurance.

You are legally required, under the Road Traffic Acts, to have valid motor insurance to drive a motor vehicle in a public place – and in a “public” place means more than just on the public roadway.  This extends not only to the driver of the vehicle but to an owner who allows his vehicle to be driven.  Consequently, you should check that any person driving your vehicle is adequately covered either under your policy or that person’s own policy.

There are serious consequences for failing to have appropriate insurance.  A conviction for driving without insurance can result in substantial fines, disqualification and even a prison sentence.  Under civil law, failing to be properly insured leaves the owner/driver of a vehicle at fault in an accident personally liable to an injured party for what can amount to very substantial damages.  While the Motor Insurer’s Bureau of Ireland deals with claims by injured persons against uninsured drivers, if the uninsured driver/owner is a person with property or means, the financial consequences can be serious.

Obtaining insurance.

A motor insurance policy is known as a contract of “the utmost good faith” meaning that the person seeking insurance must disclose to the Insurer all material facts when obtaining insurance – for instance particulars of any previous convictions, any illnesses or disabilities affecting the driver (or proposed drivers etc.).  Failing to do so could result in the Insurer later refusing to indemnify in an accident situation.

Read your Insurance Certificate

Tell your Insurer precisely the extent of the cover you require.  Once you get your insurance certificate read it carefully and be aware of any limitations imposed as to what vehicles are covered and what activities the policy does or does not cover.  For instance, most policies cover use for social, domestic and pleasure purposes.  If you use your vehicle in connection with your business or profession it is essential that such use is specifically covered under your policy.  If not, and you are involved in an accident driving in the course of your business, you could find such use uninsured.

Type of licence required.

Insurance policies are issued on the basis that the driver has the appropriate licence to drive the insured vehicle and is not disqualified from holding such a licence.  Provisional licence holders must ensure they are accompanied when driving as that is a condition of such licence.  To my knowledge, one insurer is, at present, arguing that a provisional licence holder, involved in an accident while driving unaccompanied, was uninsured because the driver did not have the appropriate licence to drive unaccompanied.

Vehicles covered and extent of cover.

Most insurance policies restrict the insured to driving certain vehicles or classes of vehicles.  I know of one person who had a perfectly valid insurance policy which allowed him to drive his own vehicle and, as he thought, all other vehicles.  While his own car was being serviced he was involved in an accident driving a vehicle belonging to a company of which he is a director.  He was not insured under that company’s policy.  His own Insurer immediately pointed out that, under the terms of his own policy, he was not insured to drive vehicles which were “in the custody of any company or firm of which he was a member, director or employee”.  Also, if you are insured to drive other vehicles there may be a condition that you cannot own that other vehicle or have it hired to you.

Also, while your policy may be “comprehensive” for driving your own vehicle, you may well find that you only have third party cover when driving other vehicles.  So – read your policy and know its restrictions.

Reporting to your Insurer.

After you get your insurance be aware that Insurers must be notified of any material facts coming to the knowledge of the insured.  For example, all accidents in which you are involved – even if it is not your fault – must be notified.  Similarly, any convictions or illnesses or disabilities of the insured, must be notified and it is important to keep proof of such notification.

It should be clear, therefore, that there is more to your motor insurance cover than simply obtaining a certificate and putting a disc on your windscreen.  If you have any doubt about the extent of cover check with your Insurer and confirm (in writing or by e-mail) any confirmation given to you by the Insurance Company.

Don’t get caught out by accident!