Traps for drivers with lapsed licence

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2014

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Tens of thousands of motorists are risking hefty fines and declined insurance claims over what amounts to little more than a paperwork oversight.

Driver's licences have to be renewed every 10 years, but often creep past the expiry date while their owners remain blissfully unaware.

Those that unwittingly continue to drive on an invalid licence can cop a $400 fine on the spot, or more significantly, void their insurance cover.

Over the last 12 months, the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) has received close to 300,000 licence renewal applications.

Of those a whopping 30 per cent, or almost 90,000, were received after the licence had already expired.

A breakdown of the numbers reveals four in 10 were less than a month late in getting their licences up to scratch.

However, 12,593 motorists dragged their heels, taking a year or longer to legally be allowed to return to the road.

"It's quite common for people to forget," said AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon. "Take a moment after reading this, right now, to open up your purse or your wallet and have a look at your licence."

NZTA spokesman Andrew Knackstedt said reminders were sent out in the post about eight weeks before the expiry date.

However, there was no legal requirement for people to notify the agency if they had changed their address.

"This means that if a customer chooses not to keep their address with the NZTA up-to-date, then they may not receive their licence renewal notice, and may not be aware their licence is due to expire," said Knackstedt.

Licences can be renewed at any time, with the 10-year window calculated from the actual expiry date when renewed in the 12 months beforehand.

While most motorists may be unaware they are driving illegally, police are unforgiving of repeat offenders, who face $1000 fines and the prospect of having their car impounded.

More seriously, there is a considerable grey area over whether insurance companies will honour policies for forgetful drivers.

AA Insurance's policy document says it will not cover any damage, cost or loss when the person driving "was not legally licensed to drive in New Zealand".

A spokesperson said if an expired licence was a cause of the accident, "then a claim may not be covered, although each claim is considered on its own merits".

IAG, which sells insurance through the AMI, State and NZI brands, also excludes drivers who do not comply with the conditions of their licence, but considers each claim on an individual basis.

Head of corporate affairs Craig Dowling said IAG "would likely not" apply the exclusion if a driver was able to get a new licence issued without taking a theory or practical test.

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He also said the exclusion would not apply if, for example, an unlicensed driver was hit from behind and not at fault.

However, motorists should be wary of trusting insurers to make sensible decisions.

In one example from the Insurance Ombudsman's files, a man accidentally backed his car into a building a few months after his licence had expired.

Even though he was on private property and not even subject to the rules of the road, his claim for the damages was initially declined.

- Sunday Star Times

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