Thinking of lending someone your car? Think again.

It is bad enough when you lend your car to someone and it comes back with the seat in the wrong position, and the ashtray full. But what if you not only had to readjust the seat and clean the ashtray, but also lost your driving licence as well? Would you be as willing to lend your car out again?

This is not scaremongering, but it is an awful risk that hundreds of thousands of people risk every year by lending their cars to other people, without first checking that insurance is in place. Around a quarter of a million people are convicted of driving without insurance every year,and roughly one third of them are driving cars which they claim to have borrowed from someone else; when it is shown that that 'someone else' has given permission for the driver to take the vehicle, a prosecution for permitting a vehicle to be driven without insurance is the usual result. Usually, the fixed penalty of £200 fine and a 6 to 8 point penalty on the driving licence is the standard punishment, but if the case goes to court the maximum fine could be £5000. If you already have a few penalty points on your licence a disqualification could be very likely.

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It isn't as if you could put forward, as a valid defence, the fact that you genuinely believed this person to be insured. That will cut no ice whatsoever with the magistrates, since they only need to ask two questions; firstly, did you know that that person was going to drive the vehicle, and secondly, if you did know, would you have given your permission. If you answer "yes" to both these questions then you are automatically guilty of the offence; if you can give valid reasons why you had good reason to believe that the driver was in fact insured the magistrates could take this into consideration and be more lenient, but you would have to show that you have made all reasonable efforts to make absolutely certain that you were in the clear; merely accepting the other person's word for it would not constitute all reasonable efforts.

The only defences against conviction would be to prove that you did not own the vehicle, so therefore could not give permission for it to be driven; or you would have to convince the magistrates that you did not know that this person was going to drive your car, and if you had known you would not have allowed it. This would be a very serious allegation to make against the driver, who could well be convicted of taking and driving away a motor vehicle (TWOC, or Taking Without Owner's Consent), which could carry a penalty of six months imprisonment; and any passenger in the car could also face prosecution.

The moral of this is very clear. Before you lend your car to anyone at all, you need to be 100% certain that that person is insured to drive the vehicle. This means that you must actually see the relevant insurance certificate, and fair enough, this may well be embarrassing particularly if you are dealing with a good friend but if your driving licence is at stake it is something that just has to be done.

Many drivers assume that because they have fully comprehensive insurance on their own vehicle, they are automatically covered for another vehicle that they do not own. This is not necessarily the case. This type of cover has been withdrawn by a lot of insurance companies, partly under government pressure, and many others load on conditions which can easily be breached, such as excluding cars belonging to close relatives, over a certain capacity, people in certain occupations, etc. If in the slightest doubt, insist on a short term insurance policy to cover the period of the loan.

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