LEGAL EAGLE: Employer’s van not insured

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My son works at a local butcher shop at weekends. Occasionally he drives the company van carrying out deliveries to hotels and restaurants. He understood that he was insured to drive the van as the shop manager asks him to use the company vehicle. He was stopped by police whilst on a delivery and asked to produce a certificate of insurance. It now turns out that he is not covered under the insurance policy and has been reported for summons. We feel that he has been treated unfairly as he only did as instructed by his boss. Is there anything he can do?

Ordinarily insurance offences are known as strict liability offences. In other words you either have a policy that covers you or you don’t. If you had been misled into believing there was a valid policy, when in fact none existed, you would still be guilty of the offence but you may be able to argue ‘special reasons’ to persuade the magistrates not to endorse your licence in those circumstances.

In this case, however, your son may have a statutory defence to the allegation given his employment status at the time.

S.143 (3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 provides a special defence for employees using vehicles in the course of their employment.

The burden of proof, however, will be on him, on the balance of probabilities, to prove the following:-

The vehicle did not belong to him.

The vehicle was not in his possession under a contract of hiring or loan.

That he was using the vehicle in the course of his employment, and

That he never knew nor had reason to believe insurance was not in force.

Using the vehicle ‘in the course of your employment’ would not cover any private use of the vehicle and he would need to show that at the time he was stopped he was driving as part of his job and not doing anything that could be said to be outside his employment. Whether driving to or from work could be covered would depend on the particular circumstances at that time.

If he can satisfy the court that all of these elements were in place then he should be found not guilty at trial. His employer however may still be liable for causing or permitting him to use the vehicle without insurance. A conviction for an offence of no insurance carries a mandatory endorsement of between 6 and 8 penalty points or a disqualification of between six and 12 months.