Features — 23 December 2017 — by Audrey Shepherd
RIGHT TO THE POINT: Be safe this holiday

It’s that time of the year when so many get excited about Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and being with friends and family. It is the time when people spend the most, drink the most and visit with others the most. For some it’s mostly about partying and having fun, and for others it’s about the birth of Christ … a celebration of the coming of the Saviour of mankind. Whatever you belief, practice or preach, it’s for sure that in this part of the world it is the most monumental event.

Road safety is an issue
However, tragedy can strike any time and sadly, it is also the time of the year when we have lots of people on the roads and thus lots of traffic accidents to the extent of fatalities. Of recent the number of fatal traffic accidents in our little Jewel called Belize is overwhelming. Honestly, I am starting to think it is the number one killer in our country. Not one weekend passes without some traffic fatality, from a hit and run to a collision and this does not involve the countless minor fender benders and the like. As we saw over the Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations, the fatalities see a quantum leap during holidays, because people naturally travel more.

Christmas is peak time to be on the road as many go home to their respective districts for Christmas and New Year’s, just to go visit families and friends. Of course many attend parties and events and are on the roads all hours of the night. Often drinking and driving take place and while you may be a safe driver, the other driver may not be equally as responsible and focusing on safety … for whatever reason.

It was really refreshing to see the Police Department in Belize City having checkpoints where they are issuing pamphlets dealing with “traffic safety tips.” It is needed as a start, but I pray it grows into developing in our diverse cultures a respect for life and safety on our roads. As our highways expand and become better suited for high speed driving, it is my sincere hope that drivers do not see this as an invitation to be reckless drivers. I do hope we all take heed and save lives …. Don’t let the excitement of the moment cause poor judgement on the road as one wrong decision could signal a life and death incident.

I advise you to remember basic things like using seatbelts, observing traffics signs and speed limits. It is essential not to drive while under the influence, but also not to drive while tired and sleepy … that is equally fatal. Accidents change lives forever, especially where lives are lost … the survivors are left dealing with the consequences and you cannot turn back the hands of time. Thus I ask you, my readers, to be safe on the road and let us promote a culture of safety amongst our drivers, and responsibility behind the wheel.

Compensation in accidents
While I pray that the number of traffic accidents would be reduced, I must deal with the present reality that in 2017 alone the number of traffic accidents reported has highlighted the problem we have with road safety in this country. From a legal point there are other problems, such as the competency of the investigators, the expertise available to interpret the traffic scene and the overall attitude of Belizeans upon encountering a traffic accident. Then of course there is the issue that many of our people do not know their rights when they are involved in a traffic accident, get injured in a traffic accident or lose a loved one in a traffic accident. The sad reality is that every vehicle in this country is mandated by law to have insurance coverage, yet many victims never get any compensation and are never told that by law the insurance companies must compensate victims, otherwise what is the purpose of vehicles being insured? Of course if the vehicle has no insurance coverage, then the victims cannot expect anything from any insurance company and can only then sue the driver … sad, but true!

However, my purpose is to let the public become aware of the law as it pertains to traffic accidents and insurance companies because for years the insurance companies have gotten away with not paying!

There is a law named “Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third Party Risk) Act, CAP 231 which should be known by all using the roads, including pedestrians, as it speaks to the obligations of owners of motor vehicles to hold issuance policies against third party risks. My favourite part of this is at Section 5, which deals with the benefits to be claimed by the victims of accidents involving an insured motor vehicle. I like this section because it is compensation the victims are entitled to without even having to go to court. This section makes it clear that without any prejudice to any possible subsequent case that can be had,”The insurer of a person who was using a motor vehicle at the time of an accident involving the said vehicle out of which any bodily injury arose shall, irrespective of whether such person be negligent or not, pay as benefits to the injured third party all reasonable expenses incurred as a result of that injury for necessary medical, surgical, dental, hospital and nursing services up to an amount not exceeding five thousand dollars.”

This, many don’t know and so they never seek to get the bills incurred as a result of the accident paid for them. Of course up front the limit is only Bz $5,000.00, but when unexpected medical expenses arise, many don’t have personal insurance or extra cash to cope.

Likewise, if the injury incurred, within 21 days thereafter, results in incapacity to continue employment the insurance company, in addition must pay “to such injured third party a disability allowance of forty dollars a week for the duration of that total disability or one hundred and four weeks whichever period is the shorter.” Of course the injured person must prove employment either as self-employed or employee to receive this award.

The law is a bit biased towards women working out of the home as housewives and does not recognize the modern day house-husband. Nonetheless it makes similar provisions as above where a housewife, as a result of an accident, “substantially and continuously” becomes disabled from performing her household duties as “the insurer shall pay such injured housewife a disability allowance of twenty dollars a week for the period of that total disability or twenty-six consecutive weeks whichever period is the shorter.”

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