Are you a good driver? Probably not

It’s time for a fundamental shift in driving attitudes and for every motorist to take responsibility for their road failures instead of trying to blame everyone else.

It’s time for a fundamental shift in driving attitudes and for every motorist to take responsibility for their road failures instead of trying to blame everyone else.

Published Oct 28, 2023


Lebohang Tsotetsi

Just about every licensed, and unlicensed, 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 receive online and talk radio copy-and-paste responses that put all 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 the 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 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 individual ways, through a major reawakening to our responsibilities to one another.

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.

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

Trucks are frequently scapegoated as errant drivers try to shift the blame for road carnage. Picture: Netcare 911

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 health-care 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 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.

Taxis are the ‘usual suspects’ when it comes down to blame for crashes on our roads. Supplied

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. The 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 the 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 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 cellphone monitors your driving style across several criteria such as speed, driving style, time of day and distance travelled. Using the apps helps drivers 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 the apps frequently leads to premium discounts and rewards because the driver has reduced their risk profile.

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 the tracking apps intrusive. However, it has also been demonstrated that the apps help 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 be achieved through the responsible behaviour of each of us.

  • Tsotetsi is insurance risks manager at the South African Insurance Association, the representative body of the non-life insurance industry.

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