Do not drink and drive

It’s holiday season and people who drink and drive give a sigh of relief when they reach home in one piece if they take the back roads to avoid police roadblocks or being pulled over by a law enforcement officer.

But there are other consequences to drinking and driving, Deanne Wood, the Ombudsman for Short-term Insurance (Osti) has warned.

“What many road-users fail to consider is the devastating financial effect that driving under the influence may have on a payout from their insurer should they be involved in an accident because the majority of insurance policies exclude cover for any loss or damage where it is found that an insured driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of an accident or that the percentage of alcohol in their blood exceeded the legal limit,” Ms Wood said.

“In criminal cases, the State has to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In civil cases, however, such as claims under an insurance policy, the insurer only has to show on a balance of probabilities that the motorist was driving under the influence. The insurer does not need to depend entirely on the results of a blood test or Breathalyser. It is sufficient to sway the probabilities in its favour if the insurer is able to produce circumstantial evidence to demonstrate that the driver was under the influence of alcohol.

“Examples of circumstantial evidence include statements by police or emergency service personnel at the scene of the accident, doctors or nurses who attended to a driver who was admitted to hospital, eye witnesses who were able to observe the driver’s behaviout or witnesses who can account for the driver’s whereabouts before the accident, security or video footage from restaurants or bars.

“If the circumstantial evidence establishes on a balance of probabilities that a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of an accident, we will support the insurer’s decision to reject the claim,” Ms Wood said.

Other exclusions are if the driver unlawfully leaves the scene of the accident, and the insured will find the clause in the fine print. But is also a  legal requirement of the National Road Traffic Act which requires a driver involved in an accident where a person or animal is killed or injured or any property (including another vehicle) is damaged to stop and help, if they can, the injured person or animal and report the accident, either at the scene or at the nearest police station.

If you fail to comply with any of the provisions the Osti will uphold a rejection of the claim by the insurer.

Claims are also susceptible to rejection where an insured provides an insurer with incorrect or dishonest information about the circumstances leading up to the accident. In one case, the insured’s claim was rejected because he told the insurer he had been visiting his sister and was driving home at 2am one Sunday at about 50km/h on a dual carriageway when a vehicle  came into his lane from the left side and hit his mirror. As a result he lost control of his vehicle and hit an island in the median. However, the insurer found that the man had been at a nightclub before the accident, although there was no proof that he was drunk, the claim was rejected and the ombud agreed with the insurer.

The Osti warns consumers to be aware of the risks of driving an insured vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, unlawfully fleeing the scene of an accident or providing an insurer with dishonest information.

Contact the Osti on email: info@osti.co.za or www.osti.co.za or phone 011 726 8900 for more information.