Blade Nzimande. Picture: ALON SKUY
Blade Nzimande. Picture: ALON SKUY

A vote on the controversial Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill, which provides for a new system of compensation for road-accident victims, was postponed by the National Assembly on Tuesday evening because there was no quorum in the house.

DA MPs left the house before the call for the vote and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu had to ask for a postponement of the vote.

The bill was unanimously rejected by all opposition parties on the grounds that the new system would result in extreme hardship for road-accident victims. Opposition MPs warned that the fuel levy would have to be increased substantially to fund the new system.

The bill will replace the fault-based system of compensation currently in use by the technically insolvent Road Accident Fund, with a no-fault system.

Proponents of the proposed new benefit scheme argue that it will cut out long and costly litigation as it will not be necessary to prove the fault of a third party to be compensated by the fund.

Transport minister Blade Nzimande said in his speech in the debate on the bill that the current fault-based system was “enriching unscrupulous lawyers and doctors ... today with this bill we are closing the tap.”

The Road Accident Fund was being fleeced and the courts, he said, were clogged with road-accident cases.

Nzimande said that despite all the criticism by opposition MPs they had not presented alternatives.

The bill will introduce payment by instalments to replace the current lump-sum payments, will abolish general damages and will provide for a set of defined benefits for bodily injury or death caused by or arising from road accidents.

It will also remove the common-law right to a civil claim for damages against the perpetrator of an accident. A road accident benefit scheme administrator will be established to implement the scheme.

The DA opposed the bill, arguing that it was possible to address the deficiencies of the Road Accident Fund by means of amendments to its enabling act.

DA MP Chris Hunsinger said the design of the bill was “irrational” and would indemnify the wrongdoer. He noted that seven of the nine provinces had rejected the bill.

In a minority report submitted to parliament’s transport committee — but rejected by the committee — the DA said a no-fault system was a two-edged sword.

“Its introduction according to research conducted in America can bring about an approximately 22% saving. On the other hand it significantly increases exposure to liability for compensation by persons who do not qualify for benefits under a fault system.

“It has the potential to double the current amount required for compensation calculated at current levels of compensation,” the DA’s minority report said.

Another point argued by the DA was that the administrator of the scheme would have wide discretion, while claimants would have very few rights.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za