23 Aug The new proposed Road Accident Benefit Scheme (RABS)
The Road Accident Fund (RAF) is a government insurer that has been providing compensation to victims in South Africa claiming against personal injuries or losses, due to road accidents. For years the RAF has monetarily been paying out amounts equivalent to injuries that were sustained, loss of income, medical- and legal costs. The Road Accident Fund has been overwhelmed by financial distresses and frequently prolonged the finalisation of claims, with high administrative costs.
The Road Accident Benefit Scheme (RABS) is on route to replace the existing Road Accident Fund (RAF). Since the inception of road accident compensation in South Africa, the new RABS is designed to act as a social security scheme for the victims of motor vehicle accidents with the objective to benefit lower-income individuals and to accelerate access to health care.
Mention was made that road accident victims will receive more benefits with the new RABS than with the previous system of the Road Accident Fund (RAF). Furthermore, the bill is envisioned to make sure that benefits are more in favour of the victim than sharing the benefits with attorneys who assist with claims applications. It is proposed that the RABS will also ensure wide-ranging medical benefits, prompt processing of claims, and the introduction of a no-fault system. The current RAF works on a fault-basis system where the individual who is at fault cannot claim benefits.
The RABS works on a no-fault system, whereby drunk drivers are allowed to claim benefits when injured in a crash. This also means that all motorists that provides evidence that they were in a crash, although they are guilty of causing the accident, may claim benefits and compensation. It is proposed that litigation costs will be reduced in this way.
The Department of Transport is currently in the process of implementing the Road Accident Benefit Scheme (RABS) and the RABS Bill proposes a number of significant changes which will be made as soon as the new RABS has been adopted. The new changes proposed by the RABS Bill, inter alia, include the following:
- Road accident claims will be submitted electronically and directly to an administrator, rather than using a private attorney. A turnaround time of 180 days is proposed for the administrator to accept or reject a claim that was submitted. Claimants or applicants will not necessarily be informed of the outcome of their claims.
- Payments to a claimant will be made through an administrator, rather than a private attorney.
- Should a private lawyer be appointed by the claimant, the claimant will be liable for the cover of all unsettled costs owing his/her lawyer. No contribution will be received from the RABS to assist the claimant in this regard
- Road accident victims will have no right to approach a court, should the victim be unsatisfied with the benefits offered.
- Road accident victims will be compensated on a monthly basis or by means of small instalments, rather than paying them lump sums.
- Other departments will be involved to assist victims after road accidents, such as health and social development.
- The Road Accident Benefit Scheme is more attentive on rehabilitative and health services and undertakes to contract with public -and private health providers.
- Loss of income payments will not be made through lump sums. As an alternative, payments will be capped and paid on a monthly basis, and will also be limited to the national average salary in certain circumstances.
- Payments to a claimant will automatically come to an end after 15 years; when the victim/claimant returns to work; or when the victim/claimant reaches the age of 60. The Road Accident Benefit Scheme does not make provision for individuals that sustain permanent injuries. This means that the elderly will be more vulnerable.
- Children will be eligible for compensation for lost of earning potential. Payments will then be limited to the national average salary when they reach the age of 18, regardless of the extent of their injuries.
- Non-nationals (Foreigners) will be considered as South African citizens when involved in a road accident.
- Claimants will be responsible for obtaining police- and medical reports on their own expense. The Road Accident Benefit Scheme will make decisions on the nature of healthcare treatment that claimants receive.
- Victims will have instant access to health care, and payments can be expected much faster than RAF claims.
- Road accidents will be treated on a ‘no-fault’- basis and claimants will not have to prove by whom a road accident was caused. This means that road accident victims will be able to claim from RABS, regardless of whether it was their fault or not.
- The RABS is set to eliminate immoral attorneys and doctors who have, extensively, benefited from the Road Accident Fund at the expense of the claimant.
The proposed RABS has, however, has raised numerous outcries and disapproval from certain opposition parties. Despite disapproval from numerous opposition parties to the RABS which may possibly also reward drunken motorists for causing road accidents, the South African government is still continuing to get this scheme implemented.
The RABS and RAF will have to operate simultaneously for at least 20 years, since there is a major backlog of unsettled claims, which can result in huge fuel levy increases. A common topic that has been brought up in discussions all over South Africa regarding the RABS and RAF is that taxpayers will be incapable of affording a dual system, by basically adding the financial weights of the new proposed Road Accident Benefit Scheme onto the current stressed Road Accident Fund. The public deserves clarification on how they are meant to pay for both the RAF and RABS systems running at the same time. The current Road Accident Fund has already placed significant pressure on road users and which is not expected to change in the near future, unless significant changes are made. The RABS Bill should therefore be taken serious with regards to the social and economic consequences that could follow as a result of the Bill. South Africans are confronted with the question on whether they will be more comfortable under RABS or under the RAF system.