In recent years Saudi Arabia’s General Department of Traffic (GDT), which falls under the oversight of the Ministry of Interior, has worked with a number of other public agencies to improve safety standards and boost overall efficiency on the Kingdom’s roads. The insurance industry has played a key role in this effort. Since early 2009 Najm for Insurance Services, a private firm that is funded on a cooperative basis by local motor insurance underwriters, has acted as an effective intermediary between Saudi’s motor insurance companies, the GDT and policyholders. Najm, in conjunction with a number of other ongoing government programmes, is at the forefront of the government’s current push to boost road safety and reduce traffic congestion.
A Major Challenge
Saudi roads are among the most dangerous in the world. As of late 2012 around 19 people die in traffic accidents in the Kingdom every day, according to recent data from Intelligent Transport Systems Arab (ITS Arab), a Saudi-based non-profit organisation. In addition, the Kingdom’s dangerous roads have had a negative economic impact. “Saudi Arabia spends $6bn per year on the management of car accidents, and $250m per year on medical care for those injured on Saudi roads,” Zeina Nazer, the secretary general of ITS Arab, told local press in late 2012.
The government has worked to address this issue in a variety of ways. In April 2010 the GDT launched Saher, an automatic traffic control and management system, which monitors traffic in real time and tracks violations and accidents throughout the Kingdom. The system is made up of a massive network of digital cameras posted at intersections and on major roads in urban areas. The cameras are linked to the National Information Centre at the Ministry of Interior. The system manages traffic lights at busy intersections, assists the police in navigating busy streets, tracks traffic entering and exiting major cities for statistical purposes and automatically registers traffic violations and issues tickets.
A Key Component
One of the insurance industry’s most important contributions to road safety has been the formation of Najm, which has come to play an integral role in recent years. Since partnering with the GDT in 2009 the company’s assessors have investigated accident scenes throughout the Kingdom. In the immediate aftermath of an accident Najm assessors are authorised by the government to assist drivers in filing accident reports and function as a liaison between policyholders, the authorities and insurance companies. The firm also removes damaged vehicles from the road. Najm, which offers its services free of charge to drivers, has played a key role in streamlining the insurance industry’s response to accident claims.
While the Saher system and Najm have had a positive impact in some areas, since their launch road fatalities have continued to climb in the Kingdom. The government has taken a number of steps to address this issue. In May 2012 the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the central bank and insurance regulator, introduced the Unified Compulsory Motor Insurance Policy, a comprehensive piece of legislation that is expected to serve as a regulatory framework for the motor segment for the foreseeable future. The new policy, which was developed by a working group led by the GDT, shored up Najm’s status as a key player on Saudi roads. Indeed, under the new law all motor policies are required to be electronically linked with Najm’s system, which tracks motorists and accidents and links driving records to insurance policies. The unified law also allows insurance companies to report late payments to the Saudi Credit Bureau – an incentive for drivers to ensure their insurance policies are up to date and in good standing.
Najm’s electronic database is expected to play a central role in terms of improving safety standards in the coming years. In January 2013 the company announced that it was in the early stages of developing a new programme that would offer financial incentives and rebates to motorists with good driving records. The initiative, being developed in conjunction with SAMA and the GDT, is meant to be launched by the end of 2014.
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