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CAT B in fatal accident

Cat B issues
Cat B issues came to a head with a recent fatal accident.
We have been asking the insurance industry to get their house in order for a while and a terrible accident involving a ‘repaired’ CAT B vehicle, which cost the lives of three 3 girls, sadly shows that the insurance industry has done nothing.

We have previously highlighted what everybody knows - that the voluntary Salvage Code of Practice is effectively useless, with widespread abuse by insurers. We’ve even provided examples of repaired Cat B vehicles for sale on E-bay. Let’s face it, if there is a system that allows these ‘break only’ vehicles to be put back on the road, then we’re asking for trouble. We all understand that any vehicle can be repaired correctly if cost is not a consideration, but the reason that CAT Bs are ‘break only’ is that it is unlikely, even with used parts and cheap labour that this can be done safely. So when it comes down to it, corners are going to be cut and as no write-off vehicle is checked for the quality of repair, then this is wide open to abuse.

We can’t go into too much detail in this particular case as the Police are still carrying out investigations, but we can say that this is not an isolated incident. The police have told us, “the vehicle has been examined by an independent forensic examiner and a report has been submitted which shows that the vehicle still had the original chassis fitted, which had been bent during the original accident. And it is suggested that the axle was in the same state from the original accident with the front axle tracking adjusted to try to correct the pulling to the left. The report overall paints the picture of vehicle that was not repaired to a good standard, but made to look ‘cosmetically good’.

The seller is also being investigated for fraud, as no mention was made as to previous damage to the vehicle when it was sold. More seriously, the person responsible for putting these vehicles back on the road is currently under investigation for manslaughter by gross negligence. This is very serious stuff but nothing compared to the girls who lost their lives. I must stress the police haven’t suggested at this stage, that it was the condition of the vehicle that caused the accident but they are investigating whether the poor repair contributed to the extent of the damage and the deaths.

There are a number of really important issues raised here. Firstly, why does the insurance industry selectively use an unenforceable code of practice and why have they been ignoring the widespread concern about it for so long? Secondly, why is DVLA avoiding discussing the issue? Why did DVLA refuse our Freedom of Information Request on this subject? What has it got to hide? Why don’t insurers and DVLA require a CoD for ALL Category A & B vehicles and prevent vehicles under this category returning to the road? It strikes me that the answer to all these questions is a combination of financial implications and apathy. But how long will it be until some politician jumps on this emotive bandwagon, in the same way they did with cash for scrap. In fact, is this what its going to take to get insurers to take note?

This may paint a dark picture but if stolen cables was emotive enough for government to throw ‘cash for scrap’ at our industry then what do you think the tragic death of young girls could do? We are all ‘tarred with the same brush’ when it comes to this issue. Your average member of the public and probably 99% of politicians would not differentiate between the reputable and disreputable so I would ask you to think hard about it - think what the papers could make of it!

Our first line of defence must be those who handle the salvage. Salvage companies that sell category A & B vehicles must take some of the responsibility here. Saying that the vehicle has been sold to a licensed operator is not enough. In this case the Police have interviewed the salvage companies involved and are satisfied, but clearly a COD was not issued. Why didn’t the insurer pick this up? Perhaps because operating a COD audit system wasn’t financially in their interest?

With the continuing consolidation in the salvage industry (the closure of Bluecycle being the latest), the outcome of the VIC consultation still not complete, and the problems with DVLA/ CODs/ missing vehicles, now is the ideal time to carry out a fundamental review of the Salvage Code of Practice and ask whether it is fit for purpose? And if not, what changes are needed? Certainly for insurers, financial considerations must not be the priority when dealing with category A & B vehicles and the best way to tighten up this area is to make sure that all category A & B vehicles are destroyed in the UK and a COD issued within 30 days. Export of cat B vehicles should be stopped immediately, as it is widely suspected that many of these never get a COD and these are put back on the road overseas (where there is no write-off history) or used in criminal activities. But we also need to understand that the insurance industry can ‘move the goalposts’ quite easily, and apparently has been doing so for years. Already every year there are less cat B and more Cat C vehicles, with rumours of some insurers manipulating category volumes to maximise financial returns. Cat C vehicles avoid the COD issue, but a huge number simply disappear – don’t go through VIC or get a COD, so are illegally dismantled or exported. So clearly this is all about money and not about public safety. So perhaps we should be even more controversial, and say that ‘insurance write-offs’ should either be repaired by the insurer to a clear standard or dismantled/scrapped with a COD being issued – your thoughts always welcome.

September 2013

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