Driving consumer’s right to information
A folded and taped unsafe refitted airbag

On the 19 May 2022 the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), hosted a Vehicle Write-Off Conference in Johannesburg. The objective was to consolidate support from executives in affected sectors for the critical need to publish the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) in the Vehicle Salvage Database (VSD) of all vehicles that have previously been “written off” by insurers, and to discuss critical next steps in implementation.

The South African Insurance Association (SAIA) and the Insurance Crime Bureau (ICB) eventually agreed in February this year to publish the VIN numbers of these vehicles, but details of the implementation date are still not clear. 

Richard Green, national director of SAMBRA, says although this announcement was a very important milestone, it is imperative momentum is maintained so consumers, dealers, banks and insurers alike all have access to the information necessary to protect them against the purchase, refinancing or Insurance of one of these vehicles.

He expressed concern that SAIA’s undertaking in regard to the vehicle salvage database (VSD) may still come to nothing, much like the publication in 2014 of the 22nd Amendment of the Road Traffic Act (Government Gazette No. 38142 of 31 October 2014), providing for periodic vehicle testing as a means to ensure road safety.

There was unanimous agreement by all stakeholders on the absolute necessity for this information to be available for the motoring consumer to be protected from purchasing a previously written-off and potentially unsafe vehicle.

Green says certain concerns in implementation were tabled and discussed but the importance of making this information available to all stakeholders far outweighed any concerns.  “We acknowledge details on implementation still need to be ironed out, but importantly the next step is to ensure SAIA publish the information without delay,” says Green.

At present the VSD only impacts 30% of the insured car park but it is an important starting point and a valuable point from which to develop.

All stakeholders present agreed that they would work collaboratively to ensure smooth implementation and agreed on fundamental changes that may be needed following the publication of the register. First and foremost, the industry needed a formal post-accident inspection process by qualified professionals. Green said it was worth considering that between the Vehicle Testing Association (VTA), SAMBRA and other players, an infrastructure already exists which could be utilised albeit, in the VTA space, it may need investment in skills and more advanced equipment to do the required checks.

It was also agreed that there must be a record of written off cars from the Salvage owners and the identity of the purchaser made available. “These are seriously damaged vehicles and there has to be a record of who will be repairing them,” says Green.  “We appreciate there is a Right to Information and a Right to Privacy, but in this instance surely the former, where lives are at stake, must trump the latter.”

From an economic impact perspective, Green acknowledged there would be financial implications for the salvage yards and to the insurers. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that this situation would never have occurred if information had been available in the first place. It is time for the salvage yards to rethink their model with insurers.”  He applauded the insurers who had made time to attend the conference. “There are several peripheral issues which require the insights of all stakeholders.  We need to find a way to move this process forward and this cannot be done in isolation by SAMBRA.”

He said the focus must always be on the positives and the benefits and protection access to this information will afford everyone.

The conference concluded with a discussion on next steps and whether it is time for the industry to collaborate to form its own task team.  “This drive after all is not only for the consumer – it impacts every single stakeholder in the chain and the fundamental right to access to information,” concluded Green.