x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The car insurance process has been streamlined in Dubai but it still has miles to go.

In February 1996, the BBC aired episode six of Jeremy Clarkson’s Motorworld from Dubai. I don’t actually remember seeing it but I remember being in it. There was a section on “bizarre facts” about Dubai’s motoring life and I had a piece to camera where I recalled a reenactment of a boating/trailer accident in front of the police before they would give any papers for the insurance claim. It had been an old Dubai folklore story, and not one of mine, even then.

Fast forward a few years, and I had a similar experience myself. Out in the desert, in the rain one winter, I managed to lose concentration on a well-worn track just long enough to veer into a bush, clout the bumper on my Land Rover and bash in the front panel enough to warrant actually getting it fixed. I took it to my trusty panel beater who said that the police were getting tighter on body damage repairs, so I’d best get a report.

No problem: down to Bur Dubai Police Station for a drop-by look-see (or so I thought). Suffice it to say, two hours and much unpersuasive argument later, I found myself leading a couple of officers out towards Awir to seek out, not only the track I had been on a week earlier, but also the offending bush! To add insult to injury, when we actually got to the edge of the desert, the police car got stuck and I had to pull it out and leave it there while we all went in my car to find the tree.

Once we got to the general area, I could not find the actual greenery, but it seemed that the performance was more than enough to convince anyone that my claim was genuine, so I got the green slip for the insurance repair and went on my way.

The point of this illustration is to note how insurance procedures have (generally) improved in the UAE. At least now we have a traffic police system and an insurance system that work from the same book of Dovetail Procedures, occasional horror stories notwithstanding. I now renew my car insurances online, there are testing stations all over the Emirates and you can get a car which is registered in one emirate and tested in another easily.

In Dubai, practically all the new car dealerships have an RTA office in or next door to them and the rules regarding no-injury fender benders have changed to help keep traffic flowing. It all adds up to making the car ownership proposition, and in particular, the insurance provision element, as easy as it is anywhere in Europe. So there won’t, in all likelihood, be another Clarkson’s Motorworld segment from Dubai; we just aren’t weird enough anymore.

What’s still weird, however, is how car insurance actually works. It is completely bonkers, for example, to insure a supercar for someone who still has spots and a licence so unmarked that you couldn’t lift fingerprints from it. And why should I be paying through the nose for my premium because there are people on my insurer’s books who have driving talents inversely proportional to their bank balances?

Surely, if you have a car insured for any driver, above or below a certain age, and with a recognised reciprocal driving licence, it should be quite OK for visiting friends and family to drive your car if you want them to. And how about the idea that insurance is calculated on the value of the car with little or no consideration given to how much experience you have, in what and for how long without a claim? I have seen so-called “no claims bonuses” offered here, but all I have been able to determine is that it means your next premium will not go up quite as much as the last one did, and the value of the car will plummet.

I am delighted that, in my experience over the last 30-odd years, there have been clear improvements, and paperwork that used to take three days can now be done in a morning. Given the rest of the region, in which I travel and drive extensively, we are now way ahead of the game. But car insurance is still a black art, an arcane activity practised by people who speak in tongues, and it’s high time it was brought into the open and given a good scrub.

weekend@thenational.ae