Are you a good driver? Probably not
By Lebohang Tsotetsi, Insurance Risks Manager at the South African Insurance Association

Time for a fundamental shift in attitudes to road safety

Just about every licenced, and unlicenced, motorist reading this is a good driver. Perhaps even an excellent driver.

How do we know this? Because that is what we habitually tell each other and how we convince ourselves of our responsible nature on the roads.

So powerful and motivating is this view that just about every call by authorities and road safety campaigners receives online and talk radio copy-and-paste responses that put all of the blame on a short list of usual suspects.

In this formulation, continuing carnage on the roads is almost exclusively because of the taxis, the trucks, the buses, poor law enforcement, speedsters and the “other people” who drink and drive.

While this allocation of responsibility is often correct, what we can see, is the notion that it’s always someone else’s fault does not get us very far in reducing in a substantive way the occurrence of road accidents, deaths and injuries.

Continuing driver education and promotion of road safety must, of course, continue.

But perhaps it is time that each of us on the roads looked in a mirror. We can all contribute in a million of individual ways, through a major re-awakening to our responsibilities to each other.

A fundamental shift in attitudes to road safety and responsible driving behaviours, will spare lives and collectively save us billions in insurance losses, that could have been avoided.

This fundamental shift in attitudes should start with moving away entirely from the belief system that sees everyone else or always some other class of vehicles or drivers as being solely responsible.

We cannot continue to be on the roads with this way of thinking informing how we drive. A shift in driving culture starts with each of us and the cumulative contributions we can make by paying closer attention to our own behaviour on the road.

Further, the costs of South Africa’s poor road safety figures should be understood at a much deeper level than just looking at the statistics.

Along with the emergency services and healthcare providers, insurers deal daily with the loss and devastation caused by road accidents. Every motor vehicle insurer is acutely aware of the fact that behind every accident claim is often a story that is hard to hear.

At a practical level, it is the payers of motor insurance premiums and the economy at large that ultimately bear the costs in terms of write-offs and repairing damaged vehicles. There is also a negative multiplier effect beyond actual vehicle damage in terms of lost productivity and costs that we should be able to avoid or at least mitigate.

The price (that is, the risk adjusted premium) is ultimately reflected in a tangible way in the motor insurance premium cost.

It is correct to observe that over the past few years motor insurance premiums have had to be adjusted to reflect the increasing cost of claims. These costs have been driven largely by increases in prices of parts related to a weaker currency and the greater sophistication of the technology in modern vehicles which is more expensive to replace.

But, at its core, the motor insurance premiums we pay reflect what insurers refer to as the risk environment. This essentially means the frequency and severity of vehicle accidents, including the rising costs of repairing a vehicle to manufacturers’ specifications.

We can start to change this risk environment by accepting that bad or irresponsible behaviour of others on the roads does not absolve us of our individual responsibilities to drive defensively and safely. Once the accident has happened, regardless of who was at fault, it is your vehicle that is damaged or written off. Even with insurance, there are costs and considerable inconvenience after an accident.

We clearly need to move way beyond the idea of blame and the sense that if it’s someone else’s fault we are just fine. We are not.

For example, we should all be familiar with the importance of vehicle checks before a longer journey, along with the obvious requirement not to drink and drive and the need to stop for a break every two hours. And speed, something everyone can control, remains as a core factor in accidents.

There is also a valuable additional tool for drivers that has been introduced by most motor vehicle insurers in recent years.

Telematics which are often used through a “driving app” on a mobile phone monitors your driving style across several criteria such as speed, driving style, time of day and distance travelled. Using these apps helps drivers to monitor closely how they are doing on the roads and have had a great impact in encouraging safe and good driver behaviours.

Telematics provide a standard and objective view of driving behaviour. Better performance with these apps frequently leads to premium discounts and rewards because the driver has reduced their risk profile.

Moreover, the use of telematics helps improve driving and this has been seen by insurers to reduce risks and claims while contributing to the national road safety vision of developing safer road users.

Many of us, particularly older drivers, may find these tracking apps intrusive. However, it has also been demonstrated that these apps help to reduce invalid claims which is ultimately to the benefit of the ordinary payer of a motor insurance premium.

Ultimately, the peace of mind derived from paying premiums and having a vital insurance safety net is critical during economic hardship.

Safer driving, fewer accidents and fewer insurance claims can indeed be achieved through the responsible behaviour of each of us.