Imagine a place without any form of motorsport. It’s horrifying we know, and not a place we ever want to live. But, according to UK racing body the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA), this could become very real for the European Union.
The EU is currently in a consultation phase over a change of wording to a motor insurance directive. This follows a quite peculiar court case following an incident in Slovenia in August 2007.
Damijan Vnuk, a Slovenian farmer, fell from a ladder as the result of a tractor backing into it. During the fall Vnuk hurt himself and sought restitution from the tractor’s insurer, Zavarovalnica Triglav. In the end, the insurer denied the claim on the bases that the tractor was only insured when used as a vehicle, not a propulsion device. The difference is tricky to spot, but a tractor doing the job of a tractor is a propulsion device. A tractor driving on the road is a vehicle.
Vnuk appealed the ruling, taking his case to higher courts again and again. Eventually the European Court of Justice ruled that the “European Motor Insurance Directive”, which requires vehicles registered in the EU to have at least third party liability insurance, did not make a distinction of where and how vehicles are operated. Its interpretation meant that any motor vehicle, whether on the road or on private land, requires third party insurance to operate.
What does this mean for motorsports? It means that within the EU, any vehicle operated on private land – including racing cars – must have third party motor insurance. It also means that, in the event of a crash, there is an investigatory requirement.
Imagine Sebastian Vettel crashing into Max Verstappen — hard to believe, we know. Now imagine that crash treated exactly like a normal accident that happened on Britain’s M1 motorway, with the police involved. That could be a harsh new reality in Europe.
Of course, should it come to pass, it won’t be the larger and richer series that suffer — at first. What is really at risk is amateur motorsports, and the next generation of drivers in junior formulas. These are industries that cannot saddle the extra cost of insuring cars on the track — even if insurers offer those products (which they currently don’t).
Eventually the issues will reach larger event. With fewer amateurs taking to the track, several motorsports facilities could end up closing their doors. With a reduction in the driver pool, a drop in possible venues and the inevitable loss of sponsorship, it could end motorsport in the EU.
Brexit gives people in the UK – one of the engineering hotbeds that drives international motorsport – hope that they will end up missing this. However, the any ruling on the directive looks to come into force well before the 2019 departure. The UK Government will be required to implement the directive within its own national law, although can begin the process to repeal it post-Brexit. It may be too late by then.
Is there a solution in the works? Well, the EU recognizes the far-reaching implications to the “Vnuk ruling”. It is currently consulting on a change to the Directive to clarify the wording, and is seeking opinions.
Within its consultation it offers several options. One of these – and the one MIA is urging its members to select – restricts the need for insurance by amending the context of the Directive. This would add a clause that states that the Directive applies to vehicles when “use of a vehicle is for the transport of persons or goods, whether stationary or in motion, in areas where the public has access”.
The consultation period ends on October 20, and MIA’s CEO, Chris Aylett, is urging business which operate in the motorsport industry to respond:
“This threat is real, make no mistake, it could close down all motorsport. My appeal will safeguard jobs and the industry. If you want to protect your job in motorsport then make sure your employer responds before the deadline of October 20. The EU offers an option, known as Option 3, where their insurance requirement applies ‘in traffic only’. If we succeed in getting this option supported then motorsport will be safe.”
The next week could be a make-or-break period for motorsport across Europe. If Option 3 isn’t selected, it could very well mean the end of the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix — all from a man in Slovenia falling off a ladder.
If there was ever an “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore” moment, this might be it for race fans.