All motorists who drive their vehicle in a public place must be covered by a valid policy of insurance, and must be able to produce same when demanded by An Garda Siochana. It is an offence to drive without valid insurance, and it is a separate offence to be unable to produce the policy documents when demanded. The main governing legislation is found within Section 56 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961 (as amended).
There is also a related offence, which occurs where the owner of a vehicle permits another person, who they know is not covered by insurance, to drive their vehicle in a public place. The owner, as well as the driver, can be prosecuted in those circumstances.
A motorist can find themselves summonsed for driving without insurance when they thought that they had a perfectly valid policy in place. This sometimes occurs where a person committed another offence, such as driving without a valid driving licence, or in some other way invalidated their policy with their insurer (e.g. failing to disclose previous conviction), thus leaving them without cover.
For a variety of reasons, many motorists and vehicle owners still find themselves summonsed to court to answer an accusation of driving without insurance, and it is one of the most common road traffic offences to come before the District Court. Nonetheless, insurance offences are taken very seriously both by the Gardai and by the Courts, and the penalties, even for a first offence, can be stiff.
It is a valid defence to an accusation of driving (or permitting another to drive one’s vehicle) without insurance to be able to produce policy documents covering the date in question. Production of other documents will rarely be sufficient evidence to avoid a conviction be recorded.
There are some other defences available (involving, for instance: consent, the employment relationship etc), though they must be carefully considered in light of the required elements of the offence which constitute the specific charge, and it would be foolhardy to attempt to run a defence without taking advice in advance. It is sometimes seen that motorists will attempt to argue a purported defence that although their policy was invalidated the insurer was obliged to cover third parties, however the Courts take a dim view of this line.
The penalties which can be imposed for insurance offences are harsher then other road traffic offences, such as driving without a driving licence or without NCT, namely:
- A fine not greater than €5000;
- A custodial sentence not exceeding 6 months;
- A driving ban from driving (2 yrs on a first conviction, and increasing thereafter); and,
- 5 penalty points.
There is discretion vested in the District Judge to leave a person without a driving ban where it is their first insurance offence, however it is not a discretion easily granted. One must establish to the judge’s satisfaction that special circumstances exist which merit not being left with a period of disqualification. This is a decision which will be made on the evidence and representations made to the judge based on the facts of the motorist and the case.
The Gardai also have the power to impound a vehicle without insurance.
It is possible to apply for Criminal Legal Aid to cover defence of an insurance charge, depending upon one’s financial means, though obtaining same is not guaranteed. Given the potential consequences for a person’s work, life and liberty, one should always take appropriate legal advice when faced with an insurance offence.
To learn more or to make an appointment call us today on 01 832 7899 or email info(at)barronmorris.com.
The material contained on this website is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Any and all information is subject to change without notice. No liability whatsoever is accepted by Barron Morris for any action or omission made in reliance on the information on this site. If you require specific advice on any legal matter then please contact a solicitor.