Car hire snag in Britain & Ireland

In an article about the hiring of vehicles (July ’05, pg. 95), the writer suggests that those who are over the age for hiring a vehicle should “Have a guide or younger person hire and drive the vehicle and reimburse him/her.” He goes on to say, “The person must have a credit card in his/her own name and must be able to satisfy all the rental requirements.”

I cannot speak for other countries, but in Britain and Ireland there are strict regulations appertaining to such circumstances, and it is important that travelers know these. In the following explanation, I will refer to the person who cannot hire the car as the “Traveler” and to the person whom he enlists to help him as the “Driver.”

Should the Traveler enlist the services of a Driver who hires the car on his behalf, the Driver (and therefore the transaction) is subject to “hire and reward” legislation. The Driver must hold the appropriate driver license AND the vehicle must be covered by specific “hire and reward” insurance.

If the Driver is unrelated to the Traveler, be he an associate, a local guide or a friendly companion, if the Traveler recompenses the Driver in any way, shape or form whatsoever, be it for the hire of the car, for fuel used or for general expenses, either by way of a payment or in kind, the Driver must be the holder of a) a current British “Private Hire” license or b) a British “Hackney” driver license.

Further, the vehicle must be specifically insured for the carriage of persons for “hire or reward.” (This insurance is very expensive; for our firm, we pay between $4,400 and $6,200 per vehicle per year for this privilege.) In consequence, self-drive-hire companies do not provide this type of insurance cover.

Some smaller self-drive-hire operators will allow Drivers to provide their own insurance coverage for the hired vehicle, but they will not discount the hire rates. Because of the “minefield” relating to insurance and licenses, the larger hire companies simply will not entertain renting vehicles that are being used for “hire and reward.”

There have been instances where, in alleged innocence, people have entered into this sort of agreement only to find themselves in serious trouble when stopped by the police on a routine check or when involved in even the smallest of “fender benders.”

In a recent case, a Driver had associates (not relatives) visiting him from the USA. He agreed to take them around London and the surrounding countryside for a few days in a minivan he had hired from a major rental company at Heathrow Airport. The Driver obviously did not charge for his services, but the Travelers reimbursed him for the rental of the vehicle and the fuel used.

When they were involved in a minor road accident, the police looked closely into their circumstances. As the Driver had hired the vehicle, it was deduced that by paying for the fuel and vehicle rental the Travelers were effectively recompensing him. In the eyes of the police, the Driver was being “rewarded” and was therefore subject to the Private Hire/Hackney/Hire & Reward legislation.

In consequence, the insurance provided by the hire company was considered null and void, and the Driver was subsequently charged with the criminal offense of driving whilst uninsured. He was fined a substantial sum, and his license was subject to six penalty points. Crazy, but that’s the law.

It is not difficult for a Traveler to find a Driver who holds the appropriate license and has the necessary insurance cover. The snag is these Drivers usually provide their own vehicles.

If a Driver agrees to hire a vehicle for the Traveler and to insure and drive it for him, his charges will — by the time the car hire and fuel ($8 a gallon) are added plus the cost of transferring their insurance to the hire vehicle — be much the same as that which he would charge for providing his services using his own vehicle.

It is appreciated that many Travelers have limited budgets, but one can only go so far to keep costs low, and falling foul of a country’s laws is a big price to pay for attempting to save a few dollars.

ANTON PROLE, Midway Motor Travel, Southerwicks, England