Sep 14 2023

Do I need insurance to just pop off the drive?

About a month ago, I was driving along a main road when a van pulled out in front of my car. Although I stopped before hitting the van, the driver continued turning and scraped the side of his van along the front of my car causing damage to the bumper. My insurance company took my car away and provided me with a hire car while mine was being fixed.

My own car was returned this afternoon and the hire company called to arrange the return of their vehicle. They can’t come and collect it for a week, and I don’t have anywhere to put it, so I asked whether I would still be insured to drive the car during the next week so that I could move it to a public car park etc.

The lady on the telephone told me that my insurance for the car will expire this evening at midnight and that I would not be insured to drive it afterwards. “But” she explained, “we understand you might need to move it short distances like on and off your drive for access”.
“I won’t be insured for that though, will I?” I confirmed.
“No, but it’s okay if it’s just short. Like on and off your drive.”

I must admit that I was surprised to be told that by somebody working for a hire company that specialises in providing hire cars on behalf of insurance companies, but what do I know? So, would I be okay to move their car, uninsured, if it were just on and off my drive?

The Road Traffic Act 1988 is very clear. Section 143(1)(a) states, “A person must not use a motor vehicle on a road [or other public place] unless there is in force in relation to the use of vehicle by that person such a policy of insurance… as complies with the requirements of this Part of the Act”. So, driving without insurance is a crime. Got it.

What then is a “road or other public place” for the purposes of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and its insurance provisions?

Section 192 of the Act defines a road as “… any highway and any other road to which the public has access and includes bridges over which a road passes…”. Since the public must “have access”, I think we can rapidly conclude that a private driveway is unlikely to be a road.

Case law takes us a little further though. In Austin v Oxford, the court defined a road to be a “… a definable way between two points over which vehicles could pass.” While Clark v General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation Plc, invited us to look for obvious features of a road such as that, “its physical limits are defined or at least definable. It should always be possible to ascertain the sides of a road or to have them ascertained. Its location should be identifiable as a route or way. It will often have a prepared surface and have been manufactured or constructed.”

What then is a public place?

The case of Richardson v DPP, involved a man driving while drunk in a pub car park. There, the car park was not a public place, despite the fact that the defendant had entered it and parked there, because numerous signs prohibited his actions. It was privately owned, members of the public did not routinely use that area, and the owners had taken steps to make clear that the public should not use it. Contrast that with a typical residential road that is owned by a public authority and has no restrictions on its use by the public. As my driveway is privately owned and is clearly not a public place, we can conclude that there is no restriction on my driving a car there without insurance.

Since the road outside my house is both open to the public and a place clearly identifiable as a road, no such freedom is available to me. I must have insurance if I am to drive a car on that road, even briefly.

So, would I be okay to move their car, uninsured, if it were just on and off my drive?

The answer should be obvious now. The Road Traffic Act 1988 required anyone using a car. on a road or in a public place, to have a valid insurance policy covering their use of that vehicle. Since my cover for that vehicle expires at midnight tonight and I have no other policy that would cover my use of the car, I would be committing a criminal offence if I were to drive the car on the public road even briefly.

If you have received advice from your insurance company that sounds a bit dodgy to you – and an awful lot of what we hear from insurance companies about insurance law is very dodgy advice – feel free to call us on 020 8242 4440 and we’ll sort you out. Alternatively, you can send us a message from our contact page.