In a recent pruning of this section we lost a number of posts discussing issues around the 'Driving Other Cars' (DOC) extension which is present in some insurance policies.

As this is a subject I feel strongly about this is my attempt at providing some definitive answers on this subject, in the hope that the mods will make it a sticky and preserve it from future trimming.

In light of this can I politely ask anybody who wants to get into a slanging match with me about any of the points below to start a new thread, please?

About me: I am not a lawyer or an insurance underwriter, I am just somebody who has a keen interest in both the law and car insurance, to the extent that I do crazy things like actually reading exciting doucments, such as insurance policies and acts of Parliament.

General disclaimer 1: All of the following is based on my own personal understanding of the law, and the (few) case law examples I've been able to read. It may be the case I am wrong, so please bear this in mind and don't complain to me if you follow this advice to the letter and end up with 8 points on your licence and a whopping fine.

General disclaimer 2: It's worth noting that a lot of the law relating to insurance policies is based upon case law, which tends to be biased against the insurance company, in as much that in most cases they will be forced to pay 3rd party liabilities even if you've lied through your teeth to them. So, technically, if your insurance company is going to be forced to pay out then you're insured, but this doesn't protect you against your insurance company bringing a civil action against you to recover any monetary loss they make.

The law: As a preamble the law requiring all road users to have insurance against 3rd party damages (i.e. the damage you do to others or their property) is laid out in section 143 of the Road Traffic Act (1988). There is only one statutory defence - if you're driving a company vehicle in the course of your employment and you have no reason to believe that there is not an insurance policy in force (sec 143 of the RTA). There are a number of parties exempt from the requirement to carry insurance, but they're mainly councils and emergency services, so they don't concern us.

The RTA requires insurance when a vehicle is being used on a public road or in any other public place. Be aware that the definition of a public place is quite wide and just being on private land does not automatically exempt you from the requirement to carry insurance.

Right, on with the meat...

1. What is DOC?

The DOC (Driving Other Cars) extension is a clause in some insurance policies allowing you to drive other vehicles with 3rd party cover. It's normally expressed in terms such as, "The policy holder may drive vehicles not belonging to them, or leased to them under a hire purchase scheme, providing that they have the owner's permission to do so". So it allows you to drive any vehicle 3rd party, providing you don't own that vehicle, which leads us on to...

2. Which vehicles do I own?

There's no single definition here, but we could say that you own any vehicle which you have the right to sell. It's important to note that this is *completely unrelated* to who is named as the registered keeper of a vehicle on the V5 (log book, for you oldies). The new version of the V5 even says, in big letters on the top of the first page, "This document does not indicate ownership". The upshot of this is that you can not claim that you don't own a vehicle because you have transferred ownership [Updated 4/3/11 - I should have typed "the V5" not "ownership". Sorry]to your mate/mum/girlfriend/etc.

[Updated 4/3/11 - Sarah (Mrs Jase) has provided an example of an insurer which specifically excludes cars lent to you by your partner, which effectively closes the 'loophole' of registering your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend as the keeper of the vehicle and then driving it on DOC]

3. Do I have a DOC extension?

Read your policy. The DOC extension used to be almost standard on fully comprehensive insurance policies, but this is no longer the case. Conversely it does sometimes appear on 3rd party or TPFT policies. As a general rule you should always read the documentation for any new insurance policy in full anyway (no matter how dull it is), but always make sure you do have DOC cover before attempting to use it. As a warning at this point, when I've actually phoned insurance companies to ask about DOC cover I've been given advice that is outright wrong; on one occasion I was told that other named drivers on the policy were also covered by DOC (the policy didn't mention this), on another I was told that the cover could only be used in 'emergencies', although the lady I was speaking to was very reluctant to define what an emergency was and the policy made no mention of such a condition.

4. Does the other car have to be insured in its own right?

No, or at least I've never seen a policy which specifies that it has to be [Updated 4/3/11 - I've never seen a policy that specifies that, but Sarah has kindly found one which does, so be sure to read your policy documents very carefully]. If you are using DOC cover to drive a car for which there is no other insurance in place please be aware that:

i. While driving you are responsible for ensuring that the car has a valid MOT (unless being driven to or from a test centre for a pre-booked test) and is roadworthy.

ii. The car will not show up on the Motor Insurance Database (MID), so if you're spotted by a police car with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) you may well be stopped for a chat and will have to satisfy the officer that you have insurance.

iii. Every policy I've ever read has the DOC cover entitling you to 'drive' other vehicles, but the RTA requires insurance while the vehicle is being 'used' on the road. There's a gap here if you park the vehicle in a public place although, as far as I know, there's never been a legal test of this disconnect.

[Update 4/3/11 - From 11th of February it is a legal requirement than any non-SORNed vehicles are insured in the name of the registered keeper or are owned by somebody who is covered by an 'any vehicles' policy (sections 144A and 144B of the Road Traffic Act). Because it is still legal to drive a SORN'd vehicle on the road, providing you are driving to or from a pre-booked MOT test, so there is a narrow window of opportunity to still use DOC to drive a car which isn't otherwise insured ... if you're allowed to.]

5. What are the risks?

Without a doubt the biggest risk is that you will have an accident and write-off somebody else's car while you only have 3rd party cover. That sort of thing can really put a strain on friendships.

You should also be absolutely sure you have the owner's permission to drive and that they will confirm this if a police officer phones them to check. If they say you do not have permission then you are bang-to-rights driving without insurance and face points, a fine and maybe having the vehicle confiscated.

If you are using DOC to drive a car which really does belong to you, but where you have transferred the V5 then there is a risk that, given a sizeable claim, the insurance company will dig into who owns the car and then try to bring a civil case against you for making a material misrepresentation of fact. This could have very expensive consequences.

Even if you get away with driving a car in this fashion do bear in mind that you have misled your insurance company as to the risk you represent and, in doing so, you have slightly pushed up insurance costs for everybody else.

Also remember that you can't use DOC cover to buy road fund licence for a vehicle and that the person named on the V5 is legally responsible for ensuring that the car is taxed. If your girlfriend starts getting automated fines because you've made her the keeper of the vehicle expect relationship issues.

[Updated 4/3/11 - The policy that Sarah's quoted also specifically excludes using the DOC cover to recover a vehicle which has been impounded by the police. I never suspected you'd be able to use DOC to do this anyway, but it's worth mentioning specifically]

6. What are the alternatives?

If you need insurance cover for a short period, to test-drive a car, have a go in a friend's car or similar then look at a short term insurance policy. There are many companies now offering these and last time I used one it was less than a tenner for a day's fully-comp insurance.

If you own a vehicle and are its main user then it should be insured in your name. If you can't afford to do this then, sorry, but you should get a different car.

[Update 4/3/11 - Many, many thanks to Sarah for her help in making this post as accurate as possible]

Dear monos, a secret truth.