Saturday 17 October 2015

Ignorant or stupid?

There is a huge difference between ignorance and stupidity.

Ignorance simply means not knowing something. Stupidity is not being able to know anything. I’m entirely ignorant about Mongolian poetry but I know what both Mongolia and poetry are and if I decided to I could probably learn about the subject. So I hope I’m not stupid.

At Consumer Watchdog I have to confess that we do sometimes encounter people who are stupid. Really, really stupid. But for every stupid person we meet we probably meet another 99 who are simply ignorant. They’re certainly not stupid but there’s just an area of their lives (like Mongolian poetry) where they simply don’t have the knowledge needed to make rational judgments.

Someone contacted us recently asking:
“I hit another car from behind and it only damaged the rear bumper. The accident was reported to the police where I was charged with careless driving. The owner want me to repair her car so can I be charged and repair the car at the same time?”
I’ve done my best to explain to this reader that there is absolutely no connection, legally, morally or practically between him being charged for careless driving and paying to repair the damage to the other guy’s car.

Firstly there’s the law. Section 51 of the Road Traffic Act describes “Careless and inconsiderate driving” and says that:
“If a person drives a motor vehicle without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be sentenced to a fine of not less than P100,00 or more than P500,00, or to imprisonment for a term of not less than two months or more than six months, or to both."
Actually I understand that the fine is now much higher than when the Act was first enacted.

Regardless of what happens or what any other driver says or thinks, it’s illegal to drive in a careless manner on our roads and the Police are empowered to punish people who do so. The fine the reader paid was to the State, not to the other driver whose car he had damaged.

Then there is the compensation he owes to the other driver. He damaged his car and he is the one who should pay to fix it. The other driver is entirely innocent so why should he have to pay to repair damage that someone else caused? He’s already been inconvenienced by the damage to his car so why should he be further inconvenienced by having to pay for it?

We had another question from a consumer whose wife had also been in a minor car accident. Nobody had been hurt but some damage was done to the other driver’s vehicle. Everyone involved accepted that the collision was her fault. The other driver claimed against his vehicle insurance policy and his car was repaired. However, while the other guy’s insurance covered the repairs there was an “excess” amount of P3,000 that the other driver was required to pay. This is common in insurance policies, there is an amount that the policy doesn’t cover which the insured person has to pay. So the other driver came to the husband, the owner of the vehicle, and asked him to pay him back for that sum of P3,000 which he willingly did.

Months later the other driver’s insurance company wrote the husband a letter demanding that he compensate them for the entire cost of the repairs, P10,742. He asked: “Am I legally bound to pay this amount? If so can it be paid in monthly installments?”

The answer is simple. Yes, he IS required to compensate the insurance company. The other driver did nothing wrong, so he deserved to be paid back for his losses and the insurance company didn’t do anything wrong either. They were both “innocent parties” and they deserve to get their money back. It’s perfectly normal practice.

Of course what he should have done is have his own vehicle insurance policy. That way his insurers would have paid the price for him.

Another reader asked:
“is it lawful to blacklist someone with ITC Botswana and still continue charging him/her interest?”
The answer is simple. Yes.

Not only is it lawful, it’s also entirely proper and, even though the reader might have forgotten it, he agreed that this would happen when he signed the initial agreement. I don’t know the details of the case but I bet he bought something on hire purchase or borrowed money and later got into trouble paying and fell behind with the payments. As the original agreement will have said, when that happens the company is entitled to start charging interest on the late payments and to continue to add more and more payments to the growing debt as they are missed. As the debt grew he will have fallen further and further into debt as the interest and the interest on the interest grew.

Then the company is also entitled to declare to a credit reference agency of their choice that he is massively in debt to them. Firstly they’re entitled to do this because it’s true, they’re not lying, but also because in the original agreement he signed there will have been a clause saying that he permitted them do it.

All three of these questions are founded on ignorance (no, not stupidity) about the way in which things happen when you have an accident or borrow money. It really is rather embarrassing that in 2015 there are people who have never been properly educated on the basics of how money and the law work. Isn’t it about time these issues were taught in schools as an essential part of the curriculum?

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