The planned roadworks on Johannesburg’s M1 highway have officially kicked off, with traffic congestion at the start of this week giving an indication of the delays frustrated road users can expect for the foreseeable future. However, it is also important for road users to note that these much needed upgrades could also affect them in ways other than simply a substantial increase in traffic congestion. Factors such as the potential liabilities that could arise if an accident occurs while carpooling, as well as the additional dangers and hazards that are brought by ongoing roadworks projects, have become important topics of consideration. Dangers are also posed by using back routes when trying to avoid major routes that are undergoing maintenance, which are not necessarily in good condition.

This is according to Lizette Erasmus, head of insurance expertise at IntegriSure, who says, “There is no doubt that the bridges and storm water drains on the outlined section of the M1highway, which stretches from the area close to the Killarney Mall and on to the Crowne Interchange, are in need of an upgrade. The relevant bridges include the Oxford and Federation bridges and the dual carriageway between Rock Ridge and Federation Roads. This is going to result in lane closures in certain areas, which is expected to encourage an increase in carpooling. However, carpooling brings its own insurance liabilities in the case of an accident.”

Erasmus clarifies that while carpooling can be a cost-effective move, vehicle owners may be required to make changes to their insurance policy. She clarifies, “Depending on the carpooling circumstances, it is possible that the insured’s premium could be reduced on the basis of lower usage of the vehicle. On the other hand, drivers who intend to provide their vehicle for the use of the car pool may be subject to increased premiums or may need to adjust or amend their policy.

“Best advice is not to make assumptions either way, but to consult with your financial services provider on the issue, as they understand the risks. Consumers should take heart in that any increase in your premium due to carpooling is likely to be fairly minor. It is far more expensive to have a claim refuted and potentially denied, than to take the trouble to consult your financial services provider to get your policy adjusted for a carpooling situation.”

In addition, it is also important to realise that most personal lines insurance products exclude cover for those who transport passengers for reward or payment. The key factor is that the cost should only cover the fuel expense and the driver should not be making a profit.

Erasmus adds, “Another concern for insurers when it comes to carpooling is the imposed liability, as a result of other passengers who could possibly hold the driver liable in the event of an accident. Passengers involved in a carpool should be aware that they will not be able to claim from the insured for any bodily injury in the event of an accident but must claim from the Road Accident Fund.”

From a purely practical perspective, it’s important to realise that when there is prolonged construction on the roads, this inevitably brings with it more hazards, including hazards on the road, lane confusion and reckless driving. The importance of vehicle owners upholding their insurance policies for their vehicles therefore remains paramount. The recent example of the M1 pedestrian bridge collapse in October 2015 is an extreme example of the dangers that can come with major roadworks.

Erasmus concludes, “Personal insurance should ideally be a fluid arrangement that changes according to your life needs, and the life events that may impact on them. It’s important to be aware that something as apparently removed from one’s life such as a key, prolonged roadworks upgrade may nonetheless potentially have a highly personal impact on individuals.”