Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Cedric Stephens | Producing proof of motor insurance in digital Jamaica

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2020 | 6:34 AM
A police officer writes a traffic traffic ticket on the streets of Kingston.
A police officer writes a traffic traffic ticket on the streets of Kingston.

ADVISORY COLUMN: RISKS & INSURANCE

QUESTION: I learned from one of my WhatsApp contacts that motorists are no longer required to produce paper certificates of insurance or cover notes to the authorities as evidence of compliance with the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act. Digital evidence of coverage will now be accepted instead. Can you confirm whether this information is true?

– B. I., Kingston 8

RISKS & INSURANCE: I have seen no information from Tax Administration Jamaica, the police force, the Ministry of National Security, or any insurance company saying that paper-based certificates of insurance are no longer required as proof of coverage.

I would expect motor insurers or their association to have made a public statement if your information were correct. When head of The Insurance Association spoke on Thursday night, I got the distinct impression that your source had jumped the gun.

My quick read of the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act – MVITPRA – as a non-lawyer, led me to believe, in the absence of another law that said otherwise, that the legislation that created motor insurance does not say anything that expressly prohibits the use of digital certificates of insurance.

Section 10 (1) says: “Any person driving a motor vehicle on a road shall, on being required by a constable, give his name and address and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle and produce his certificate, and if he fails so to do so, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall on summary conviction thereof before a Resident Magistrate be liable to a penalty.”

Subsection (2) deals with accidents involving third parties. It reads: “In any case where owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road an accident occurs involving personal injury to another person, the driver of the vehicle shall at the time produce his certificate to a constable on demand and to any other person who, having reasonable grounds for so doing, has required its production, and the driver shall also, as soon as possible, and in any case within twenty-four hours of the occurrence of the accident, report the accident at a police station and thereupon produce his certificate.”

The law then goes on to explain what it means by “produce his certificate”. In so doing, in my opinion, it opens the door for digital certificates of motor insurance. It says that 'Produce his certificate’ means “produce for examination the relevant certificate of insurance or certificate of security or such other evidence that the vehicle is not or was not being driven in contravention of Section 4 as may be prescribed”. I have interpreted this part of the law to mean that it contemplates the production of standard or non-standard evidence of insurance.

That said, I wish you good luck in trying to persuade a constable who is intent on ticketing a motorist that the digital image of a certificate of insurance issued by a bona fide motor insurer is valid for the purposes of MVITPRA.

“New E-Ticket Traffic System to be piloted by month-end” trumpeted the Jamaica Observer on September 11. The headline was wrong, and the article was short on details. A reader who was unfamiliar with the subject would have been misled.

The Jamaica Information Service called the new scheme the Traffic Ticket Management System, TTMS. It was described as a centralised web-based platform whose aim is, among other things, to improve how traffic is managed, and, ultimately, change how motorists behave by way of a more effective and efficient system of sanctions and penalties using the new Road Traffic Act and TTMS as the tools.

Because driving vehicles without motor insurance is one of the many problems on our roads – it is estimated than one in every four vehicles is uninsured − the authorities need a quick and reliable tool for the police to check the insurance status of vehicles.

Motor insurers came up with the solution. It is called IVIS – insurance vehicle identification system. TTMS will have the ability to access the information in IVIS. When the police stop a vehicle for a routine check, they can use a hand-held device to find out whether the vehicle is insured. They will also be able to find out the registration details and whether the driver has any unpaid traffic tickets and issue tickets for new violations.

If the police are relying on digital insurance records to determine the insurance status of vehicles and to prosecute drivers for non-compliance with the law, they will have great difficulty in not accepting the image of a certificate of insurance issued by a duly authorised insurer on a tablet device or cell phone as evidence of insurance when produced by a motorist. Whether this happens in the real world remains to be seen.

Electronic systems, in general, are notorious for bugs. New systems are typically rolled out after exhaustive tests, which are designed to ensure that they perform as designed.

TTMS is no exception. It will undergo three months of tests. When it is officially launched, which probably will be some time next year, the insurance industry and law enforcement will have entered a new phase of the digital age.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to:aegis@flowja.com.