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July Portal Data: The upward curve continues but figures remain a long way short of normal

In our last update, we suggested that the impact of the government's easing of lockdown restrictions and the opening of pubs, shops and offices would most likely be reflected in the Portal data for July. So what effect have those changes had on claims numbers?

The number of new CNFs is certainly continuing to rise for all types of claim but, a little bit like the economy, it's starting from a low base in April and May, and we wait to see if it's going to be a V-shaped, U-shaped or L-shaped recovery…

There are also local lockdowns to consider which will bring swift changes to activity levels within regions and even single cities. This will impact the data going forward, particularly if the large Northern conurbations and the West Midlands are shut down again. For now, let's see what we can glean from July's data set as well as looking at some important consultations announced this month.

Transport useage

It's a steady picture for the transport use statistics up to August 16th, perhaps again reflecting the holiday period. With reluctance to use public transport still rather engrained, we would expect to see further movement here in September with the schools reopening and the government continuing to try and persuade businesses back to office working.

 

Private car usage remains around 100% of pre-lockdown levels at weekends dropping to mid 80s during the week, after we highlighted in our last update that it had for the first time hit 100% since lockdown. Commercial vehicles seem pretty constant now at close. 

During the initial peak of lockdown cycling use hit nearly 400%, although now this has stabilised to around 200% at weekends, still an impressive shift, but then we are comparing August with mid-March so that might be a partial explanation. The pattern certainly is decreasing however as motor vehicle usage increases, and it's probably too soon to assume everyone who was cycling has moved on to e-scooters!

Another interesting area to look at is routing requests from drivers with these statistics coming from Apple so perhaps only indicative rather than the Department of Transport figures. These continue to show an increase in private transport across Europe. Although the UK is lagging behind here, lockdown lifted later than for most of our European counterparts so to some extent we are probably playing catch up. The UK is now ahead of pre-lockdown levels on this criteria:

The HM Courts and Tribunal statistics surprisingly show little movement for the period 21st June – 26th July and remain a considerable way off the March baseline. The official records for new court receipts include a caveat that the most recent weeks are often subject to revision due to late data recording so it might be that the upward trend to 12 July will continue. July and August are traditionally the quieter months of the year due to the holiday season in any event so again we may not see much change until September statistics become available.

Only time will tell whether civil litigation has taken a temporary or permanent hit but the increase in a consensual approach and standoff agreements is no doubt reflected in the figures below. The ABI's limitation agreement with certain claimant solicitors in E&W ceased at the end of June:

In terms of hearings, again the data is flat, but it is pleasing to see the number of adjournments continues to decline as practitioners become used to remote hearings and the courts used to technology advancements such as the Cloud Video Platform (CVP). It remains to be seen whether the opening of Nightingale Courts announced in July will start to ease the backlog of hearings. They didn’t get off to a great start when shortly after their opening security lapses were exposed at one of the new Nightingale Courts and Manchester Crown Court had to close due to a number of staff testing positive for Covid-19.

Reforms

Attention is now finally turning back in earnest to the whiplash reforms with reports of the CPRC subgroup starting to review the draft Rules again, with a view to having them before the full Committee in October. The MOJ seem once again focused on an April 21 implementation date.

If they are to do so, then the new Protocol and amended Civil Procedure Rules will need to be released by the end of the year at the latest. Furthermore the MOJ will need to find time in the parliamentary diary to introduce the secondary legislation required for the rise in the small claims track, ban on pre-medical offers and introduction of the tariff for whiplash claims. Any official confirmation that both the statutory instrument and the Rules are progressing well would be welcome, and we would again urge publication of the Rules at the earliest opportunity.

Consultation Watch

We have seen the announcement of two consultations this month impacting the world of Motor:

Highway Code Consultation

Firstly, earlier this month a consultation was launched to look at prospective changes to the Highway Code, particularly focusing on vulnerable road users. This is important for insurers as the proposals should increase protection for vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians, recognising that there are a great many more cyclists on the roads than in the past and no doubt with an eye to the figures above on cycling usage since Covid. It is proposed to establish a hierarchy among road users with those vehicles with potential to cause the most harm being given additional responsibilities to take care – with a HGV at the top of this pyramid, for example.

The changes focus on cyclists with more specific guidance on road positioning, the distance from the kerb, and how to approach junctions. There will also be greater protection for pedestrians. Motorists are given guidance on how much room to leave when overtaking and when to do so.

Whilst the Highway Code is just that, an advisory code, its contents inevitably stray into civil case law and influence how decisions are made at trial. Whilst greater clarity and all safety advancements are to be encouraged, the proposed changes will need to be reviewed when considering whether to defend and levels of contributory negligence in claims involving cyclists and pedestrians. This consultation closes on 27th October 2020.

Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) on the road

Just last week, the UK government also announced a consultation regarding ALKS, effectively a superior version of cruise control which can control both steering and speed. Whilst the detail isn’t for this update, there are a number of hugely important strategic issues that the consultation raises, which again is due to close on 27th October.

To quote directly from the consultation - the system is engaged '...during such times, the system is in primary control of the vehicle, and performs the driving task instead of the driver, at low speeds on motorways'. The current legislation in place dealing with self-drive capability is contained in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018, although the Act is yet to come into force. The Act gives the Secretary of State the power to decide whether a vehicle is "automated", ie capable of safely driving themselves and the consultation is proposing to list vehicles with ALKS technology, complying with ALKS regulations introduced by United Nations Economic Committee for Europe (UNECE) last year, as automated vehicles. The implications are then that a victim of a collision would receive compensation from the vehicle's insurer in the same way they would from the insurer of a conventional vehicle under the Act.

The ALKS technology envisaged by UNECE is limited to specific settings and speeds, namely for use in slow moving traffic on motorways, in the slow lane and for speeds up to 60kmh (37mph) only. However the consultation is considering increasing this to the motorway speed limit of 70mph.

In the various levels of automation, ALKS currently sits at level 2 which is described as driver support features, or partial automation. The driver has to maintain contact with the steering wheel but the car can control speed and steering. The consultation will look at whether these restrictions can be expanded in terms of allowed speeds and whether level 3 automation would be permitted where the driver is permitted to carry out other activities. When the Act was drafted, it was contemplated that only levels 4 and 5 would qualify as automation for the purposes of the Act so again this would be pushing the boundaries further.

The foreword to the consultation document from Transport Minister Grant Shapps states that figures in 2018 confirmed that 85% of accidents were due to human error and one of the aims of bringing forward automation was to decrease that figure. It is worth noting that a number of vehicles such as Tesla and top end Audis/Volvos already have ALKS capability although the current law prevents that being used to the full extent. We would expect to see gains in driver reaction time such that, at say 70mph there would be an additional 50m or so of road for braking that would have been swallowed up whilst the driver was thinking. Ultimately though a car still needs about 60m to stop from 70mph so it cannot prevent every accident.

But as with e-scooters the development of the technology needs to be considered alongside the insurance and legal framework, and the capability of the operator. A recent survey in the Daily Mail suggested that the UK population is perhaps not yet ready for this new technology– out of 2000 people 36% said they were not comfortable at all with ALKS,  33%  were 'not very comfortable', and only 9% backed its introduction next year.

The consultation itself gives a number of examples of where the technology may struggle, such as with the involvement of emergency vehicles and complying with overhead road signage, but these may be just the tip of the iceberg. A recent case in Germany reported by BBC News suggested that Tesla's touchscreen car controls should be treated as a distracting electronic device after a crash that resulted from a driver needing to navigate several buttons on the touchscreen to change the speed of the wipers. Whilst that was an unfortunate incident where the driver was seemingly unfamiliar with the new car technology, it suggests there may be similar cases in the future, where traditional operations are accessed in non-traditional ways, which require time for the driver to learn.

Portal Data for July 2020

New RTA Claims
July portal data for new RTA claims presented saw a rise to 39,333 new claims submitted, an increase of 20.8% on the prior month but still down 35.6% against the same month in 2019. The pace of recovery has slowed compared to June:

The April 2020 figure showed a 55% drop compared to prior year, peaking in May at a 60% drop, then recovering to just under 40% in June and now at the 35% above figure. It may be that new claims recover again when the holiday season ends but for now the recovery in miles travelled is not translating to new claims.

Weighted CNF's also show the continued recovery:

However the cumulative 12 month figure continues to slide:

New Casualty Claims

For casualty, the slight increase in activity continues. There were 2293 new EL claims submitted, a rise of 12.8% on the prior month although actually down compared to July 2019 by more than June stats - 43.1%.

There were 3147 new PL claims, a 12.2% rise against the prior month but 38% down on the same period in 2019. Although shops are open they remain at quieter levels. Tesco announced yesterday a massive 16,000 new permanent jobs after an exceptional growth in online sales. Many people remain uncomfortable with face masks and will no doubt continue to shop online.

Court Packs and PSLA

In previous lockdown months these figures have held up well but this month there was a drop in all areas:

 

The percentage of court packs compared to stage 2 settlements has however risen in RTA claims over the last few months with the reducing number of stage 2 settlements:

PSLA numbers in RTA have been steadily rising during lockdown reaching a level now of £2912, the highest level save for one exceptional month in May 18. The last 4 months average is £2891 compared to £2818 in the 4 previous months, an increase of around 2.5%.

On the face of it this seems be counterintuitive. One might expect lower agreements as claimants are more eager to accept settlements to take the cash. However, with reduced new claims since March, we are now seeing a higher proportion of older claims reaching settlement, which may explain the anomaly.

Retention Rates

Retention rates have continued their recovery towards normal figures although the 12 month cumulative total has taken a hit with the drop in April and May in particular: 

We now wait to see whether the increasing trends of vehicle usage and new claims continue next month, along with any further signs of progress on the whiplash reforms.

 

Contact

For more information please contact Nigel Teasdale, Partner, Head of Motor & Fraud M +44 7752 709114, Nigel.Teasdale@dwf.law 

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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