The road to your holiday

It is that time of the year when we take our vacation, celebrating summer and the beautiful South African weather. So the question of the safety of holiday makers, road travellers and pedestrians is uppermost.

Some Disability Rights Activists have argued that prevention of accidents should not be an issue that concerns PWD as we already have a disability. They argue that we should rather focus on making our lives better. Others like the Quadriplegic Association of South Africa (QASA) are doing remarkable work in road safety by their Buckle Up campaign with their slogan “We don’t need more members”. It is appropriate to talk about the Road Accident Fund Act and attempt to simplify it to make this law more accessible.

According to the Report of the Road Accident Fund Commission (the Satchwell report) some 130 000 South African road users are injured in accidents each year, of whom 10 000 are killed. More than 36 000 sustain injuries classified as “serious”.

The Road Accident Fund (RAF) is an agency that pays compensation to road users injured as a result of motor vehicle accidents. The RAF is established by the RAF Act which provides for: “the payment of compensation in accordance with the Act for loss or damage wrongfully caused by the driver of a motor vehicle.”

Instead of a victim pursuing a civil action for damages against the wrongdoer, the law allows the victim to have a claim against the RAF. It is meant to indemnify the wrongdoer who would ordinarily be liable to compensate the victim. The victim may still sue the wrongdoer under certain prescribed circumstances, but this is another subject on its own. The RAF is funded by a fuel levy.

However, the system is not as simple as it appears. A claim can take months if not years for conclusion. There are many reasons for this including (but not limited to) the following: Fraud, delays in obtaining accident reports, lack of witnesses to corroborate the accident, and disputes as to the exact cause of the accident, which sometimes ends up in the courts.

The victim can only be compensated provided there was a person who was wrong in causing the accident. This is based on the law of delict which simply put says that for any wrongful injury caused, there is an action for a damages claim. Wrongful behaviour causing injuries includes (but is not limited to) things like crossing against a red traffic light; overtaking on a barrier line or on the left yellow line side; crossing the freeway as pedestrian; and excessive speeding across a pedestrian crossing.

Compensation

The compensation is not guaranteed. A wrongdoer cannot receive compensation should he be injured. The RAF must investigate and satisfy itself that indeed there was a wrongdoer who caused the accident, which resulted in injury or death before considering payment. There must be what is called Fault in legal parlance for the RAF to indemnify the wrongdoer. Compensation through an offer may be made and once accepted the matter is settled and finalised. In case there is no agreement as to who was wrong, the court becomes the arbiter.

Once a decision is made about who is to blame for the accident, the extent of how much should be compensated is another legal process that takes place. This is the stage called assessment of “quantum of damages”. The whole spectrum of damages is looked into including medical expenses incurred; loss of earnings; and general damages for pain, and suffering.

Once there is agreement compensation is made and it is the end of the case and no compensation will ever be entertained again in respect of that accident.

Tips in case of an accident

  • Call for emergency services;
  • Do not move your vehicle if possible;
  • Gather the contact details of witnesses;
  • Makes a rough sketch of the scene of the accident;
  • Report the case to the Police and obtain case number;
  • Insist on making a statement to the police;
  • Advise witnesses to make statement as well;
  • Take photographs of the damages to the vehicle;
  • Follow up with the police and know who the investigating officer is.

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