Motorcycle madness

Motorists left holding the bag after collisions with bikes being operated without registration or insurance

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 26, 2019

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More than 400 motorcycle riders have died on Jamaica's roads in the past four years, but still, bikers continue to put their lives at risk, creating a major challenge to other road users, and it appears that neither the police nor the Road Safety Unit in the Ministry of Transport have a clue how to put the brakes on them.

In fact, neither of the two is certain how many motorcycles are operating on the nation's street each day, and the Insurance Association of Jamaica (IAJ) says at the end of last year only 9,470 motorcycles had been insured by its members.

Kenute Hare, director of the Road Safety Unit, says his conservative estimate is that there are more than 20,000 bikes operating in Jamaica, but Superintendent Courtney Coubrie of the police Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch, believes 20,000 is just a fraction of the motorcycles on the streets.

They both agreed, however, that the vast majority of the motorcycles operating in Jamaica are not registered or insured.

“I'm fully aware that they are operating without any form of papers. This is a phenomenon prevalent across the country and even more so in the western parishes of Hanover and Westmoreland,” Hare told the Jamaica Observer.

This was underscored by Coubrie, who noted that while the police can seize motorbikes that are not licensed, they cannot seize them because they are uninsured.

“We have more than 600 motorbikes seized in Westmoreland alone. Similarly in the Corporate Area, you will see several police stations with bikes that we have seized. But remember, we cannot seize vehicles for no insurance coverage,” added Coubrie.

This is a major problem for motorists involved in collisions with the motorcyclists as in most cases there is no avenue to claim for damage, except taking the driver of the motorcycle to court.

In a recent instance, a motorist who had his 2014 Honda Civic motor car damaged by a speeding biker was told by a policeman that he would have to sue the driver of the motorcycle, which was neither registered nor insured.

“But the rider, who had no documents for the bike, was a labourer and despite the fact that the matter would take years to go through the courts, the rider had no clue how he would find the thousands of dollars needed to repair my vehicle,” the distraught motorist told the Sunday Observer.

According to the motorist, his vehicle was insured so he decided to turn to his insurance company to get the money to fix it. But this created other problems.

“It is a very sad situation when persons are involved in collisions with motorbikes because, for the most part, the vehicle owners are the ones who have to fix their vehicles, as the biker gets away scot-free, because they operate in violation of proper road principles,” said Hare.

He agreed that the motorist can sue the driver of the motorcycle but warned motorists to “Be careful that you are not suing a 'bruck' man”.

The IAJ also noted that if the innocent motorist has a comprehensive insurance policy, he/she may opt to claim from it as the most expedient option to repair or replace their vehicle.

“However, this may place the innocent party out of pocket for uninsured expenses such as the excess and other costs not covered under their comprehensive policy,” said the IAJ in response to questions from the Sunday Observer.

The IAJ added that in instances where the insurance company has paid a claim to the innocent party under a comprehensive policy, it will initiate recovery proceedings for the money it shelled out, plus the uninsured expenses on behalf of the innocent motorist.

“Where the liable party is uninsured, the insurer will initially make attempts to recover directly from the negligent (uninsured) motorist. If the uninsured motorist is unwilling to pay, legal action is an option the insurer may explore.

“If however, the innocent party is covered under a Third Party policy, the motorist may then have to seek legal redress if the liable party is unwilling to compensate him for his loss,” noted the IAJ.

According to Coubrie, in the case of the motorist who reported his dilemma to the Sunday Observer, the police should have investigated the incident and if they found that the biker was at fault he should have been prosecuted, whether for careless driving or some other breach of the traffic laws.

Coubrie further noted that if it was not clear who was at fault, a file should have been prepared and submitted to the clerk of court for a ruling.

“If the bike was not licensed and insured, the police should have charged the operator of that motorcycle,” added Coubrie.

According to Hare, in most of the 400 cases in which motorcycle riders have lost their lives in traffic crashes across Jamaica in the past four years, they [motorcyclists] were at fault.

“When you make a decision to get a motorcycle, then you make a decision that you are not going to wear a helmet, no elbow pad or knee pad, and then you make a decision to remove the mirrors, then you remove the headlight and ride with a flash light, that is a recipe for disaster, and when disaster strikes you should not say that you are 'salt',” warned Hare.


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