Counting the cost

30 October 2013
After the crash, what are you in for?
If you're worried about the cost of crashes, the good news is that you will not suffer any direct financial impact as long as you die. If you remain alive though, you will be left to count the cost, and the amount of counting will depend on the crash itself.
Even a minor damage-only crash might cost R20 000. A best-case scenario could be that you lose your insurance excess, but if you aren't insured, you will have to find R20 000 somewhere to return the vehicle to a safe, roadworthy condition, let alone make it fit to sell.
With fully half of all credit-active South Africans having impaired credit records, money for car repairs is tight, but the ultimate cost of that small bump could be a more serious smash caused by the damage you didn't repair.
And what if it's a crash where the vehicle is written off? Without insurance, you could be ruined if the vehicle is still subject to a finance agreement, because you would no longer have an asset as collateral for the loan, but you'd still owe the bank a stack of cash.
Driving a financed vehicle without insurance is like dicing with financial suicide. When your furniture or possibly even your house - is attached to pay the outstanding balance, you might find yourself wishing you hadn't been wearing your seatbelt when you wrote off your pride and joy.
And the costs don't end there. Owners of fixed property which were damaged by your crash, like garden walls, traffic lights or road signs, might come after you for damages. Vehicle insurance generally covers you against those kind of costs, but if you are uninsured and have a crash that causes extensive property damage, your financial stability could be on the line.
Having dealt with the direct costs, let's look at the knock-on items. The medical costs of a crash in which you are seriously injured but make a full recovery could run into millions nowadays. And then there is the bit nobody likes to talk about: the fact that you could be left maimed after a crash.
The South African government no longer releases statistics on serious injuries in vehicle crashes, but the past ratio of four serious injuries for every fatality was stable for a long time and probably still holds true. That means that 60 000 or more South Africans per year are suffering life-changing injuries in traffic crashes.
The thought of losing an eye or being disfigured causes most people to shudder, but those kind of injuries are really at the lower end of how your day-to-day functioning or earning capability could be affected by a crash. For instance, becoming paraplegic or quadriplegic is profoundly life-changing, with day-to-day access to amenities severely restricted in many cases.
Imagine, as a quadriplegic, having to be fed and bathed for the rest of your life. Think not only of the psychological effect, but the annual cost. Now multiply that by the number of years that remain between your current age and your allotted three-score-and-ten years. It's chilling.
And then there are the traumatic brain injuries. A small mercy is that sometimes the patient's brain injury is so severe that they are not able to comprehend how their life has been ruined. But not in all cases. And that aside from the cost of care -  is what you should be truly frightened of. Imagine a crash that leaves you with insufficient intellect to function in society, but just enough to recall what you were once capable of.
How horrific to have to live with that every day, even if you're lucky enough to have a few million Rand to see to your care and subsistence for the years that remain. So take it from us that the costs of traffic crashes are sometimes far beyond what the average motorist can conceive of, and that's something to consider with the Christmas holidays fast approaching.
Our plea to you is to drive a little more cautiously this festive season. After all, dying in a traffic crash is something that concerns most people, but perhaps what we really should be worried about is surviving one.
Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)
General enquiries:
011 799 1000
Media enquiries:
011 799 1180


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