For the past few weeks, we have been dwelling on motor insurance and why not? Beyond being compulsory, motor insurance is the most patronized insurance product in Nigeria. Today, we have reason to deal with another aspect of motor insurance. A few days ago, on my way to work, I saw a big lorry tilting dangerously towards the wall of a private primary school. It was supported with wood to prevent it from tipping over. Beyond the wall was the children’s playground. I asked when the incident happened and I was informed it happened in the night long after the school children had closed…thankfully. But what if the lorry had fallen? It would have destroyed the fence and the children playground with the contents of the playground. There would certainly have been a third party property liability claim. What if the claim runs into millions?
The Motor Vehicles (Third Party) Insurance Act of 1945, which took effect from 1st April 1950, only makes provisions for third party bodily injuries and death. There is no provision for third party property damage. The lacuna created by the Motor Vehicles (Third Party) Insurance Act of 1945 was sorted out by the Insurance Act of 2003, which extended Motor (Third Party) Insurance to take care of liabilities arising from damage to third party property to the tune of One Million Naira.
This N1 million limit for third party property damage applies across board to all vehicles. Even articulated vehicles, that can damage third party properties running into hundreds of millions of Naira at a go, have a limit of N1 million. A policyholder can increase the limit of his property damage with payment of additional premium, but many owners of these articulated vehicles do not take advantage of this provision. Those who do usually go up to N10 million limit for third party property damage. This is fair, but still not high enough. The catastrophic destructions some of these articulated vehicles have caused to third party properties point to the inadequacy of even N10 million limit.
I am of the opinion that a time has come for a fresh legislation to increase the limit for third party property damage of lorries and articulated vehicles to start from N10 million to N50 million, depending on net weight, usage, etc. This measure will provide more protection for third parties. It is improper for the limit of liability for third party property damage of cars to be the same with that of lorries and articulated vehicles.
Already, third parties are well protected for cost of treatment for bodily injuries, which is unlimited; also benefits to relatives and next of kin in the event of death, which is also unlimited in theory, but in practice determined by age and annual income at the time of death, etc.
In spite of these, we must realise at all times that insurance is a last bus stop; the focus at all times should be on prevention of accidents. We said last week that three main factors cause accident: the vehicle, the driver or the road.
VEHICLE: Many accidents on our roads are caused by vehicles that have no business being on our roads. Sometimes the tyres are worn out or expired. It is worse with articulated vehicles. I have seen articulated vehicles that usually have 14 tyres ply our roads with only 10 tyres. Where the tyres are supposed to be in pairs, they put only one. Meanwhile, they are loaded with goods. The manufacturers of these vehicles have reasons for the specifications and when it is not being obeyed, something must give way.
Another cause of carnage on our roads is brake failure by articulated vehicles. This happens especially on sloppy roads. Why on earth will anybody put a vehicle with faulty brakes on a public road? Sometimes, the vehicle simply detaches from the trailer. In all the above cases, the bottom line is that the vehicle is not road worthy. Yet these vehicles have roadworthiness certificates. It is about time the Federal Road Safety, VIO units and other relevant government agencies placed more emphasis on human life. Road worthiness certificate should be first and foremost meant to reduce accidents on our roads, not generating money for government.
DRIVERS: for the average driver of a lorry or articulated vehicle on our road, size of vehicle is power. The rules on our road do not apply to them. They have the size and boss the rest of road users around. Many of them do not have human compassion. They seem to drive with intent to crush anything on their path. Some of them do not get good sleep and many accidents have occurred because they dozed off while driving. Some also drink and drive and accidents have occurred as a result of drunkenness. Nigerian drivers generally need re-orientation. Drivers of articulated vehicles need it more because they have the potential to cause accidents with catastrophic outcomes. They also need periodic training.
ROADS: Our roads are a national embarrassment; they are nothing to write home about. The Lagos-Benin Road mirrors the average Nigerian highway. You fix the Edo State portion this year and enjoy it for two years. Meanwhile, the Ondo portion that was fixed two years earlier is beginning to fail with cracks and potholes. The Federal Ministry of Works or FERMA, which is in every state, takes no remedial measures until the entire stretch becomes a nightmare. Then reconstruction of the road is awarded to some contractors. Nigerian contractors do not fix roads and cause road users minimal discomfort. They inflict maximum pain and discomfort on road users. A journey that should not take more than four hours now takes seven hours. And construction work that takes less than two months abroad will take two years to complete here. By the time they are done with the Ondo portion, the Edo State portion would have started failing. So year in, year out, the Lagos-Benin Road is permanently under construction. There are better ways of doing these things and those in charge know. They should do the right thing and stop inflicting pains on Nigerians. Not everyone can afford air travels; not everyone likes travelling by air within Nigeria.