Vache Gabrielian, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA), warned them to hurry up, saying that the authorities will not extend the January 1 legal deadline for the introduction of what has until now been a rare practice.
A government-drafted law adopted by the National Assembly in May made car insurance mandatory for the owners of all 430,000 or so cars and other civilian vehicles registered in Armenia. The CBA was tasked with coordinating the process that will give a massive boost to the country’s fledgling insurance industry dominated by foreign-owned firms.
The nationwide sale of insurance policies that began on October 18, ten days after the CBA set uniform tariffs, mainly pegged to the size of car engines, for all auto insurers operating in the local market. Most car owners will have to pay 25,000 drams ($70) or 32,000 drams each year. The policies required by the law cover only damage caused to other cars and the health of their drivers or passengers during accidents.
Gabrielian revealed that despite the approaching deadline only roughly 40,000 drivers have bought such policies to date. “There is an old Russian saying, ‘Until the thunder strikes, the peasant won’t cross himself,’” he said. “The same logic explains the wait-and-see approach of our citizens.”
Gabrielian suggested that many of them still hope that the authorities will postpone the enforcement of the unpopular measure or even scrap it altogether. “The law has been passed,” he stressed at a news conference. “The National Assembly meticulously debated on this law for more than a year, and it will be enforced according to plan.”
The law in question stipulates that drivers failing to have car insurance after January 1 must be fined 50,000 drams or more.
Gabrielian dismissed suggestions that the less than three months set aside for introducing car insurance is too short a period of time. “We have not had any delays,” he said, arguing that the October 18 launch date stemmed from the law.
Many drivers in Yerevan blamed their failure so far to comply with the law on what they see as exorbitant insurance fees. “You need money to buy car insurance and I don’t have it right now,” one man told RFE/RL. “I may even stop driving a car after Christmas.”
“I’ll give them my one month’s pension,” scoffed a pensioner driving an old car. “I get 45,000 drams a month. If I pay 25,000 drams, what can I do with the rest? To pay for the utilities? To spend it on New Year’s celebrations?”
“Whatever they charge, we must comply,” said another motorist. “But it would have been better if they hadn’t introduced that in the first place.”