Living dangerously Editorial
Stabroek News
December 1, 2001

It was recognised early in the history of motor vehicles that their drivers could cause serious and sometimes fatal injury to persons using the road and could also damage the vehicles and property of other persons. Laws were passed, therefore, that required all owners of vehicles to take out insurance policies with recognised companies to cover them against claims by injured third parties.

In Guyana, the relevant law is the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third Party Risks) Act. This states that all owners must insure their vehicles against claims by third parties for injuries or damage to their property up to certain limits. The trouble, however, is that these limits are absurdly low so they in fact provide little protection to third parties. The prescribed limit for personal injuries is $25,000 per claim, $l25,000 per accident and for damage to property $20,000 per claim and $l00,000 per accident. By way of illustration of the inadequacy of these limits, the damages a court might award these days for pain and suffering and loss of amenities for the loss of a right arm could be in the vicinity of $600,000, and that is quite apart from the damages for loss of future earnings by the injured person.

The vast majority of vehicles now on the road, including of course minibuses, only have what is called third party act cover, that is the minimum cover required by law. If therefore a driver of such a vehicle knocks you down on the road or hits your car or motorcycle you can only recover $25,000 or $20,000 respectively from the owner's insurance company, however serious your injury or however badly your car is damaged. You can also, of course, recover damages awarded by a court from the owner or driver, but in the case of a minibus the owner may have little except the bus and the driver is often a man of straw.

Citizens are therefore effectively in danger of suffering severe, uncompensated losses every time they use the road. Very few owners have what is sometimes called full third party cover which might cover them up to say $5 million for claims by third parties arising out of an accident. It is, of course, prudent for people or companies who own businesses or have properties or other assets to have such cover to protect them against third party claims.

The obvious remedy, of course, is for the legislature to raise the low limits now set by the law. This was discussed many years ago but never implemented. Obviously, it will mean paying higher insurance premiums for the increased coverage but that should be one of the social obligations that go with owning a vehicle.

There is talk of changing some traffic laws. This is one related law that should most certainly be changed. At the moment, we are all living dangerously every time we use the roads as it is more than likely that we will be unable to recover if we suffer a severe loss. The Minister of Home Affairs should, we suggest, open early discussions with the insurance companies and groups representing vehicle owners on revised limits. This newspaper has more than once received reports of people involved in accidents being able to recover little or nothing. It is time that something be done.