Christelle Colman, the managing director of Elite Risk Acceptances, a subsidiary of Old Mutual Insure, says the financial implications for someone who causes an accident while under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance can be devastating.
“All short-term policies and contracts are subject to South African legislation. Since it is against the law to drive under the influence of any intoxicating substance, you will not be covered under the policy if you do.”
She refers to the 2017 annual report of the Ombudsman for Short-term Insurance that stated that the biggest cause of complaints by consumers was insurers rejecting their motor vehicle accident claims because of drunk driving.
Almost half, about 49.3%, of the 9962 complaints received by the ombud’s office were for motor vehicle claims. Of these, 74% were for accidental damage to vehicles. The most common reason given by insurers for repudiating claims was driving under the influence of alcohol.
According to the report, the second-highest cause of complaints was the rejection of claims because the policyholder had allegedly misrepresented underwriting details at the sales stage. This includes misrepresentations about the regular driver, the insurance and claims history, the credit history, security devices and whether the vehicle would be used for personal or business use.
Colman says your claim will be rejected if you were under the influence but were not responsible for the accident.
“You can experience severe financial implications and personal financial loss if you are not serious about the situation, especially since we are entering the ‘silly season’,” she says.
In addition, a drunk-driving incident will affect your risk profile, and insurance companies may refuse to cover you. At the very least, your premiums will rocket.
According to the Arrive Alive website, research indicates that 50% of people who die on South Africa’s roads have a blood alcohol concentration above 0.05 gram per 100 millilitres - the legal limit.
Colman says that if you are sober and a drunk driver causes the accident, the driver’s insurer will reject a claim for your damages. In this case, you will have to claim from the driver as an individual.
In South Africa, 70% of cars on the roads do not have insurance cover - not even third-party liability insurance.
“The reality is that if someone causes an accident in which you are involved, the chances are seven out of 10 that they would not have any insurance, and you have to claim against them as an individual.”
Colman says there are ways to manage your risk during the upcoming festive season.
South Africa has an affordable taxi service in the form of Uber. If you are going out and you have more than one glass of wine, use this service instead of taking the wheel.
Colman also refers to the “drive me home” chauffeur services offered free of charge by insurance companies.
When you are going to a year-end-function, or to a party with friends, you can book a car to fetch you at a specific time. The car will arrive with two drivers: one to take you and your vehicle safely home, and the other to pick up your driver at your home.
“There is really no excuse to get behind the wheel of a car under the influence of any substance, and that includes marijuana, even if you have used it a few days ago. If it is found to be in your system, and the insurance can prove that you were under the influence, your claim will be rejected,” says Colman.
Ernest North, the co-founder of Naked Insurance, says with the legalisation of the personal use of dagga, most insurers will tighten the exclusions relating to driving under the influence of alcohol to address the use of cannabis.
He points out there is not yet a universally accepted way to prove that someone was driving under the effects of an excessive dosage of marijuana.
“Blood tests can reveal recent usage, but there is no definitive way to show that a person has had a level of exposure that would affect his or her judgment at the time of an accident,” North says.
However, says North, insurers might use eyewitness accounts of your drug usage and behaviour before you got behind the wheel to determine whether you should be covered for your accident.
There are many questions and little precedent about the use of marijuana and rejected claims, but North advises anyone who uses “the herb” for medical, religious or other reasons not to smoke and drive.