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Rising death claims by commercial drivers — Worrying or a good sign?

BY: Mawuli Zogbenu
Road accidents claimed 1,140 lives in first five months in Ghana this year

It does appear to me that in recent times, the number of commercial drivers and commercial vehicle owners making death and injury claims from insurance companies is rising. I want to believe this is as a result of the public agitation leading to massive public education that inundated the media early last year following an adjustment in the motor insurance premiums.

Readers will recall that barely a month after the premium adjustment implementation, news about an accident involving a bus belonging to a State-owned transport company and a cargo truck at Kintampo was reported. Several precious lives were lost and some of the surviving victims were said to be in critical conditions at various health centres.

While Ghanaians were still recovering from this unpleasant news, hours later, yet another crash was reported at the Sekyere-South District and about 17 people were reported to have sustained varying degrees of injury when a mini-bus and a pick-up truck collided head-on.

The several fatal accidents and those with severe injuries that occurred between then and now cannot be quantified as the media would typically pay attention to mainly the high-profile ones!

African causes of accidents and awareness

Typical of us Africans, the easiest conclusion we could draw at the quick succession of these two (2) accidents was that ‘the gods were angry’, suggestive of some element of superstition being at work!

Sadly and rightly so, many of us wondered how the families of these victims were going to make a living if there was no form of compensation after they had lost their breadwinners!

With this awareness in mind, many commercial drivers and commercial vehicle owners now know where to go in the event of fatal accidents –insurance companies!

Third party motor insurance

Third party motor insurance is the most patronised type of motor insurance in Ghana. In spite of this, claims that arise from accidents involving third party-insured commercial vehicles will blow your mind, especially if human lives are involved. These claims can literally bring an insurance company down on its knees! This makes me wonder how some insurance companies would have survived but for the adjustment in premiums!

Vehicle usage has embedded morbidity and mortality risk. Therefore, the law requires motorists to purchase motor insurance cover to protect innocent third parties and themselves against potentially enormous financial losses from operating a motor vehicle.

Third party insurance is cheaper and the preferred choice of most commercial drivers. However, to the understanding of many of them, it is only meant to ‘satisfy the police’! Those who really understand its essence believe third party covers other vehicles and / or pedestrians, but they are not really bothered about protecting their own vehicles, hence the preference for this type of motor insurance.

Thanks to the Police MTTD for the strict enforcement of motor vehicle usage requirements.

Recent developments

The typical commercial driver who runs into another person’s vehicle is not likely to fall on his insurers for claims to be paid. He would rather rely heavily on the nearest roadside mechanic shop where he could, in a few hours or days, get that damage fixed at his own cost. He would mostly resort to insurance only in the event of death or severe injuries to other road users.

In a cursory survey I personally conducted recently, a number of reasons accounted for the reluctance of commercial drivers to report accidents for claims and also why they would rather do so only if death occurred.

Delays in obtaining police reports

Speaking to a section of commercial drivers, a good number of them had a fair understanding that their insurers would pay claims arising from accidents in which they had damaged someone else’s vehicle if reported. However, they often decided to take care of their own problems because of the frustrating procedures they were often made to go through in obtaining police reports. They even bemoaned the fact that they were sometimes requested to grease palms before they were served, and that they found really frustrating. Others who might have admitted fault at accident scenes stated that they were simply afraid of a possible detention if they should report an accident to the police. (My own suspicion here has to do with the authenticity or otherwise of their drivers’ licences).

Those who were of the view that it was faster to ‘solve problems’ of their ‘victims’ than go through all the processes to have their vehicles fixed intimated that they did so because their only source of income remained running those vehicles and delays could have significant impact on their daily earnings.

DVLA tests

Some were not comfortable having to go through another bureaucratic round of having a vehicle tested by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) for its roadworthiness where they had to part with some money on top of the waste of time! Out of eight commercial drivers I spoke with, only one was confident his vehicle in its normal state would pass the roadworthy test if he had to go through the ‘normal’ process!

Three out of the number said they would not go to their insurers for claims in the event of an accident unless a third party had died.

Lack of confidence in insurance companies

Two of the drivers described insurance companies as ‘frustrators’ because of the back and forth they had to go through to prove their claims. Though they failed to give adequate proof of this assertion, they said they had heard others say so, while others said they were unable to read the policy terms and conditions.

Vehicle damage

When a commercial driver damages another’s vehicle and he pleads with the other vehicle owner to let the matter rest, making arrangements to fix the third party’s vehicle without recourse to his own insurers, the insurers benefit for no fault of theirs.

Until next week, ‘This is insurance from the eyes of my mind.’

The changing trend

In spite of the above, some confident commercial drivers no longer seem perturbed by the delays they have to go through before obtaining a police report or DVLA roadworthy certificate.

In lieu of relevant statistics to support this observation, I can say that commercial drivers, especially ‘trotro’ drivers and long-distance passenger drivers, are reporting accidents and making claims, especially if the accident involves human lives. This is when insurance companies rise to the occasion to satisfy the purposes for which the drivers have an insurance cover.

The way forward

Even though it is assumed that policy certificates issued motorists contain the terms and conditions, it is equally important that insurance companies also recognise the fact that not all commercial drivers can read, hence the need to provide a more detailed education at inception.

Public education at major transport terminals and the use of the mass media with contents in the local dialects will help a great deal.

I want to believe strongly that if the issuing of police reports is also simplified and takes very little time to obtain, commercial drivers will rely heavily on insurance companies to take care of damage they cause to other people’s vehicles.

It’s time commercial drivers are encouraged to make claims no matter how small these claims are, and this is one effective means by which they will have some more confidence in insurance!