Taye Abebe, sergeant, was patrolling
the intersection between Burundi and Tesema Aba
Kemaw streets, around the area locally known as Goma
Kuteba, on Friday morning, January 13, 2012, when
Tsige Benti, 70, a businessman accompanied by two
gentlemen, drove his Toyota pickup truck past him.
Tsige was stopped by the officer,
for he was found driving a vehicle without an
insurance certificate on the windshield. He was
promptly dispossessed of his driver’s license and
issued a blue ticket authorised by the Insurance
Fund Office, a federal agency established in 2010,
which states that he has five days to get coverage
for the insurance and get back his license.
“But, I do have coverage with Awash
Insurance,” the elderly man countered. “I just left
it at home.”
The pickup truck had been in the
garage since July, due to complications with the
engine. It is now on its way to get its electrical
system fixed, at another garage, Tsige explained to
“I did not put the sticker on my
windshield just in case water gets in the car and
damages it,” he pleaded.
The story was not palatable for Taye,
who would not relent.
“If you do have insurance, you can
bring it to the district office and get your license
back,” he told Tsige.
Disappointed, Tsige asked where the
Lideta District Police Department was, and continued
on, leaving behind his driving license in the hands
of the officer.
“The gentleman seems to be genuine,
but me and my colleagues have heard the ‘I have left
my paper at home excuse’ repeatedly since Tuesday,”
Taye told Fortune. “We need to be careful not to be
Last Tuesday, January 10, 2012,
marked the first day of the supervision of
compulsory third-party insurance coverage, enforced
by federal and city authorities. Although the 2008
proclamation, which makes insurance coverage against
third-party risks mandatory, was to take effect
immediately, it was only after the Insurance Fund
Office was established and the registration period
was set for the last three months of 2011 that the
ball started rolling.
The proclamation, ratified due to
the escalating number of accidents in the country,
requires vehicle owners liability coverage against
third-party risks of up to 40,000 Br, in case of
death; up to 15,000 Br, in case of bodily injury;
1,000 Br for emergency medical treatment; and
100,000 Br for property damage to be paid to victims
of accidents on the road.
But, sticking to the original
deadline proved to be a tough. After extending the
deadline by a month, for a significant number of the
380,000 vehicles across the nation had not been
registered, the Office finally gave the mandate to
the city’s traffic police department to start taking
away driving licenses from drivers in vehicles that
have not yet registered for third-party insurance.
Taye has ticketed nine vehicles in
the four days starting Tuesday.
“I have let new vehicles with
temporary driving licenses pass with a warning
because they may have just bought the car,” he told
It has been a much tuned down
approach that authorities have decided to take,
convinced that they would rather lean on educating
the public before employing the full force of the
law. The penalty that the Office imposed last week
was much less than what was expected. However
disappointed people may get when their licenses are
taken away, the punishment is a mere slap on the
wrist compared to what the 2008 proclamation allows
of law enforcement agencies.
Those found in violation of the
provisions of the proclamation or subsequent
regulations can be subjected to penalties, including
imprisonment of one to two years.
People need to get used to the
system before moving on to more stringent
regulations, said Bayleyegn Bekele, public relations
head at the Office, who reminds that third-party
insurance is meant to benefit and not harm citizens.
“At first, people will have their
licenses taken away and will be given a five-day
period,” he told Fortune. “Then we will follow the
measure that penalises people in fines, but it will
be counted as an infraction in the traffic code
instead of a violation of the proclamation.”
The maximum fine for violating a
traffic code is 700 Br, still much less than what is
asked for in the proclamation - 3,000 Br to 5,000
So far, fear of being subjected to
penalties of up to 5,000 Br is what seems to be
driving most vehicle owners to rush and get the
insurance before time runs out in January. During
the initial three-month registration period,
beginning September 11, some vehicle owners had
complained that the premium set for their automobile
was too high.
Leaders of the Taxi Owners’
Association were especially vocal, sending letters
in November 2011 to Kuma Demekssa, mayor, claiming
that because their profit is determined by the
government and most of their vehicles are old, they
cannot pay the premiums in a lump sum. They had
copied their letter to authorities at the city
transport authority and the Insurance Fund Office.
Fearing the fines, taxi owners have
finally paid for the premiums, their request to pay
in instalments denied by the Insurance Fund Office.
They were also told that the deadline would not
Isuzu trucks drivers had also
complained that they were being charged the same
premiums as trucks twice their size. After being
told that amendments to the premium tariff will only
be revised after a year, they also complied.
It was this persistence from
officials of the Insurance Fund Office, in
maintaining that the deadline would not be extended,
that led to such concessions. Those that took the
risk and did not register, however, got away with
it, when the deadline was extended for a month, in
December 2011. Now it is through grace periods and
lowered fines that the Office is trying to lure in
those who are left.
The street of Sierra Leon (Debre Zeit Road) was
swarmed by casual passer bys to watch the horrible
accident caused by two mid-buses.
The lenience, however, seems to be
lost on drivers, who were stopped for not being
covered this past week.
Nigat Gebrekidan, deputy sergeant,
sat in a small room at Kirkos District Police
Department, also known as Sidestegna. Her desk was
littered with driving licenses which drivers came to
reclaim through the bars of her office window.
Vehicle owners, who were there on
Friday afternoon for not registering for third-party
insurance, complained that they were treated
“I was not in this country and did
not know about the registration deadline,” a driver
Other’s said they did not have
enough money or were driving a friend’s car.
Nigat did not hear the stories but
checked if they had registered for the insurance
before handing their driving licenses back. Around
57 drivers had their licenses taken away, Tuesday to
Friday, in Nigat’s District alone. Of these, 32 came
to reclaim their licenses after registration.
It is hard to get concrete numbers
from the Insurance Fund Office on how many people
have registered to date. Inconsistencies are
encountered during data collection from the 13
insurance companies that provide motor insurance,
with their numerous branches, according to Alemu
Ejigu, operations manager at the Office.
The Federal Transport Authority
keeps track of the number of vehicles found in the
country. However, they estimate that around 285,000
of 380,000 vehicles on the road across the country
were registered by the extended deadline, according
“The numbers keep changing as new
cars get into the country,” Bayleyegn said.
Neither were officials at the Office
sure about the amount of money raised for the Fund,
after the sale of premiums by insurance companies
started in September. Around 10pc of all insurance
premiums paid are to be transferred to the Office to
be deposited in its account with National Bank of
“We expect around 28 million Br,”
Bayleyegn told Fortune.
However, if the Fund Office manages
to get all vehicles in the country registered, the
amount it will get will be much more than that. The
minimum premium tariff set by the Insurance Fund
Office for automobiles of private use that have
motor power less than 1,600cc is 505 Br.
The money collected from vehicle
owners is meant, under the law, to be used to help
victims of unidentified vehicles and emergency
treatment of victims at hospitals.
Vehicle owners, however, will have
to get another windshield sticker to be able to
drive on the roads of the country, as the
newly-automated yearly vehicle inspection will start
in just a couple of weeks.