Whiplash crackdown key to cutting car costs

The government has announced a package of measures aimed at driving down motoring costs – with a crackdown on whiplash claims at the centre of the plans.

Whiplash claims are the scourge of the insurance industry, adding around £90 to every car insurance premium and costing the industry a total of £2billion a year.

And while many claims are genuine, the evidence suggests fraud is rife. The latest industry figures show that while the number of road accidents fell by 20% between 2006 and 2011, the number of personal injury claims, including whiplash, actually went up by 60%. This works out 2.7 claims for every accident.

So if honest motorists are effectively bankrolling fraudsters and criminal gangs involved in cash-for-crash scams, what is being done about it?

Insurance fraud intervention

The government has been bullish on its stance on whiplash fraud, with Chris Grayling MP, the justice secretary, asserting that tackling the compensation culture in the UK is at the centre of plans to cut motoring costs.

Mr Grayling said: "It's not right that people who cheat the insurance system get away with it while forcing up the price for everyone else - so we are now going after whiplash fraudsters and will keep on driving premiums down."

He went on to add that any money saved by the industry should then be passed on to motorists through lower insurance premiums instead of adding to insurers’ profits.

As of next year, only evidence from accredited, independent professionals will be considered in the event of a whiplash claim, meaning it’ll take more than a just a doctor’s note to get a pay-out.

The government has already introduced a number of measures to cut down on insurance fraud, notably the ban on referral fees, an end to claims management companies securing a cut of any injury claims and the Continuous Insurance Enforcement (CIE) regime.

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In addition, the industry has taken steps to reign in the fraudsters by cross-referencing data via the Motor Insurance Database (MID) and running checks against the Insurance Fraud Register to catch out known offenders.

The good news is that we could already be feeling the benefit of the clampdown on fraud as car insurance costs are currently at a three-year low – but only those drivers who switch insurer at renewal are likely to see the benefit as insurers tend not to cut renewal prices for existing customers.

So what else is on the table to help out the UK’s legion of beleaguered motorists?

Tackling fuel costs

Rising fuel costs are arguably an even bigger pain in the pocket for motorists than insurance costs, and although the price of petrol and diesel is currently lower than it has been all year, it’s still causing motorists concern.

The good news is, the government is planning to act on the high prices charged by motorway forecourts by rolling out signs that compare prices at different service stations to encourage competition and make it easier for motorists to get the cheapest price.

This has been labelled  an empty gesture in some quarters. Critics of the plan say motorway drivers tend to get petrol at service stations only when they absolutely have to – it’s not always practical (or safe) to hang on for a saving of a few pence per litre miles down the road.

Other measures to cut motoring costs

The government plans also acknowledge young drivers are paying a high price just to get themselves ready for the road - It currently costs a learner driver £50 to get a provisional licence, £31 for a theory test and £62 for a practical test - and so there will be a review of these fees to help the 1.5million drivers who take their test every year.

And the proposals also aim to make it more cost effective for motorists to keep their cars on the road by freezing the price of an MOT test at £54.85 until 2015 – something which could collectively save drivers as much as £50million a year.

Kevin Pratt, car insurance spokesman at MoneySuperMarket, said: “It’s good to see the government is tackling head-on the high cost of owning and running a car as this is something which is felt by almost all UK households. A reiteration of the plans to clampdown on insurance fraud is particularly welcome, and it’s hoped that a continuation of the good work already being done in this area will drive down insurance costs even further and make sure motorists get a fair deal.”

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