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Insurance sector welcomes proposed road traffic amendments

Two prominent insurance executives are supporting proposed amendments to the country’s road traffic laws, saying they should redound to a reduction in motor claims and ultimately a drop in local insurance rates.

“Ultimately you will see a reduction in the premium costs, but I wouldn’t see that happening right away because companies now have to basically try to recoup those expenses that they have been absorbing. So I don’t see it happening right away. But logically it should lead to a reduction, that is, if there is a reduction in the number of accidents and the severity of the accidents,” President of the General Insurance Association of Barbados (GIAB) Michael Holder told Barbados TODAY following yesterday’s debate in Parliament on the Road Traffic Amendment Bill 2017 which seeks to impose stiffer penalties on road offenders, including drunk drivers face fines of $5,000 or two years imprisonment or both on first conviction and $10,000 in fines on second conviction.

Michael Holder

Based on the amendments, operators of public service vehicles (PSVs) and heavy-duty vehicles will also be subjected to random drug and alcohol tests, with the introduction of the much-touted breathalyzer testing.

In outlining the changes, which also include a proposed ban on cell phones while driving, Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley said the amendments come against the backdrop of 24 road deaths this year and an increase in crimes involving the use of unregistered vehicles and fake licence plates.

In response, Holder, who last month announced a planned industry hike in insurance premiums of between ten to 30 per cent, said: “Any action that is aimed at curbing accidents on the road and having driving more attentive, we would support.

“We for a long time have been supporting the implementation of breathalyzer; therefore we fully support breathalyzer testing for any driver suspected of being under the influence,” he added.

Holder also welcomed the proposed ban on the use of cellphones while driving, pointing to a 2014 industry study to justify his backing.

“We did a survey in the industry in 2014, and what we have recognized is that about 36 per cent of the accidents were being caused by distracted drivers. We can’t say all 34 per cent were due to . . . being on a cellphone, but we do expect that some proportion of those accidents would have been caused by drivers being on a cellphone. So any attempt to regularize and reduce the use of a cellphone while driving, we give our full support,” the insurance industry spokesman explained.

The decision to move the legal age for driving from 21 to 25 was also sanctioned by the sector.

General Manager of Consumers Guarantee Insurance (CGI) Peter Harris said he welcomed the amended legislation, but called for more clarity on some of the provisions.

“I agree with the Road Safety Association . . . . I think it is a fantastic move by the Minister. [However] I think there needs to be more clarity on the $5,000 fine for drunk driving,” he said, questioning: “How are you going to enforce that? If you don’t have a breathalyzer test at the scene, how can you really and truly enforce that amendment?”

The prominent insurer also questioned the practicality of asking drivers to produce their insurance certificates within 24 hours of an accident, stating that such a request was unrealistic.

“If [an accident] happens on a Friday and the [driver] happened to have renewed his insurance on that day . . . it is not very often that an insurance company issues a certificate of insurance unless the full premium is paid, so very often clients cannot get that [certificate] until they have paid the full premium,” the CGI top official explained.

He is therefore suggesting a more practical alternative of having the driver produce the certificate the next working day.

He also supported the view expressed by Holder that the impact of the new legislation on insurance premiums would not be immediate.

“It’s not something that is going to be immediate. Once the authorities start to enforce it, you are clearly going to improve the current situation with motor vehicle accidents and the severity of the accidents,” he said, while pointing out that the majority of these accidents seemed to occur after some form of indulgence late at night.

“So it is going to obviously reduce the frequency of accidents and severity of accidents, [but] there needs to be clarity on how they are going to enforce it,” Harris emphasized.

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