Driving without insurance is plain stupid
Cedric Stephens, Contributor
QUESTION: Is motor vehicle insurance really compulsory? If so, are there any penalties or sanctions for driving a motor vehicle without insurance? I have many friends - some police officers - who tell me that driving without insurance is not a ticketable offence under the Road Traffic Act. As a result, police officers are rarely interested in examining cover notes or certificates of insurance to see if they are valid and up to date. If that statement is true, isn't motor insurance discretionary? What are your views?
- D.B., Kingston 8
HELPLINE: My initial reaction to your enquiries was: what stupid questions? Anyone with any sense knows that motor insurance is required by law.
The Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act was passed into law during the 1930s when our ex-colonial masters ruled Jamaica. It has remained the law of the land since that time. Surely, every motorist should be familiar with the act and with the penalties for driving without insurance - most of all, police officers.
But, after researching the third edition of The Jamaican Road Users' Guide published by Lauren Hepburn & Associates Limited, and reviewing online the laws that mandate motor insurance as well as the Road Traffic Act, which is currently in the process of being amended, I now fully understand the importance of your questions and the reasons for the confusion.
One needs to read these two laws in order to learn what treatment is meted out to those persons who break them.
MOTOR VEHICLES INSURANCE ACT
The Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act has a number of purposes. The first one, Section 4 (1), makes it unlawful for any person "to use or to cause or permit any other person to use a motor vehicle on a road, unless there is in force ... such a policy of insurance in respect of third-party risks as complies with requirements of the act".
Road has a very specific definition under the act. It means "any main or parochial road, and includes bridges over which a road passes, and any roadway to which the public is granted access".
Section 4 (2) deals with violations under subsection 1. It says that "If any person acts in contravention of this section, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on summary conviction thereof before a resident magistrate, be liable to a penalty not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment, with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding six months, or to both such penalty and imprisonment ... and be disqualified for holding or obtaining a licence ... for a (minimum) period of 12 months from the date of the conviction."
The law is clear: driving a motor vehicle without insurance on a public road can land motorists in jail.
Other parts set out for the minimum level of insurance that is required to comply with the law in respect of personal injury and property damage and prescribe, in general terms, some of the things that motor policies should cover.
The Road Traffic Act is another important law that touches on how the business of motor insurance is conducted. It is a big law with 122 different sections, not including the regulations.
The act deals with the regulation of motor vehicles, the licensing and registration of vehicles, licences of drivers, driving and driving offences, accidents, seat belts and protective helmets, as well as other topics relating to the use of motor vehicles on public roadways.
The police get their authority to prosecute road users for traffic offences under this law. Sections 59A, 59B and 59C of the act and the regulations provide information about a generic points system, which the Road Users' Guide refers to more accurately as the demerit points system. Under this system, motorists get demerit points for not complying with road traffic rules.
Ticketable driving offences have fixed penalties which may be paid to a collector of taxes instead of through the court system.
Significantly, none of the 47 offences that earn demerit points, and for which the courts have authority to impose fines, include penalties for driving without insurance. This, in my opinion, is because that offence is dealt with by Section 4(2) of the Motor Vehicles insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act.
If one is not familiar with the latter law and relies exclusively on the Road Traffic Act, it is fairly easy to understand why some mistakenly assume that driving without insurance is 'no big thing'.
Driving a vehicle without insurance is against the law and is plain stupid.
Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, email: email@example.com